Friday, June 19, 2015

Jogging, Writing, and the Journey

Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite novelists, compared his writing life to his running life. He said:
Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate--and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn't become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different. (Source: Haruki Murakami: Talent Is Nothing Without Focus and Endurance )
I really love this quote, because I understand the connection between training for something like long-distance running (or any other endurance sport) and writing a novel, and it makes perfect sense to me. Both training and writing are hard things to do.  You not only have to push yourself but also have to learn how to pace yourself. If you go too fast too soon, you can crash and burn--in a marathon, in writing, in life. And, specifically as it applies to the writer's life, if you don't take an attitude towards writing that emphasizes the journey, then you are likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Sure, we have heard of the first-time novelist who becomes an instant best seller, but for the most part, the majority of novelists write years before (or even if) they ever sell anything.

But back to running.

I am not a runner. I am more of a jogger. I have trained for marathons and half-marathons, but I am not fast and usually end up at the end of the group crossing the finish line. But this has never bothered me, because usually I am just happy I actually made it to the finish line. I think the most important thing about training for marathons or endurance events has to do with the journey. You do a little bit each day, building up your strength, going a bit farther each time. You work yourself up to a comfortable pace that doesn't wear you out but that you can maintain throughout your event. You prep beforehand with the right amount of water and are religious about self care before, during, and after the race. Eventually, you make it to the finish line. It doesn't matter if you are first or last, as long as you finish. The key is to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, one step at a time. 

Endurance sports have a lot in common with the writer's life, and each of the above steps have to be taken, in one way or another, in your writing life, too. Just for me, I like the comparison of jogging and writing much more than running and writing. Running implies a pace faster than I am comfortable with, but jogging permits a slow and steady pace that allows my body and mind to stay on track and tuned into my purpose.  I approach the process of working on a long writing project in the same way as I do when committing to an endurance test of any kind: As long as I push myself a little bit each day, I will eventually finish. The key is to keep going and look forward to the finish line.

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!


Heather said...

This is a perfect analogy. I am the same way. I have to push myself a little each day. There are times I can have a marathon writing day, but normally my progress is measured in baby steps. I really enjoyed this post.

Susan said...

Thanks, Heather!

Nancee Cain said...

Love this analogy!!!

Susan said...

Thanks, Nancee!

Ali Hubbard said...

What a great way to think of it. And it (almost) makes me want to run ;-) The continuous improvement theory is big with me and this resonates in the same way. It's the incremental improvements over time that yield the biggest gains.

Meda White said...

Great post, Susan. Life is a journey and a marathon. It made me think of this rule from Zombieland: It's a marathon, not a sprint, unless it's a sprint, then sprint. LOL