Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My three Rs...

New Running ShoesImage by Kim.Wood via Flickr...are reading, writing and running. I am a fool for books and cannot remember a time when I could not read. But it has taken having kids to really bring it home to me how much of a bibliophile I am. It frustrates me a little that my kids are not so gung ho on books as I was when I was their age. For a long time I did not understand why books did not have the same allure for them that they did for me. At the same time I'm jealous of all the discoveries they have yet to make and all the fabulous reading that is to come if they do turn out to be book worms.

The second is writing and I have done that throughout my life too. For a long time I've dabbled, written the odd story here and there and never done anything with them, occasionally got it together enough to send out the odd manuscript and novel proposal and then given up when the rejections came back.

For the past five years or so I have been trying to get more serious about it with a small amount of success. I think I've stuck with it so long this time because it is a lot easier to do. Sending a story out by e-mail or uploading it via a submission system is so much easier than printing out the manuscript, adding a cover letter, adding an SAE (and perhaps an IRC) putting it in an envelope, schlepping down to the post office, queuing , paying and waiting and waiting. Success, and rejection, come so much quicker in the internet age.

And now running has come back into my life. Again it has been something I have done on and off all my life. I even ran a half marathon a decade or so ago in a time that bestows no credit on me whatsoever. And I've taken it up again now. I'm glad that I have. Part of the reason I wanted to do it is because it seems to be the easiest form of exercise - I have feet and there are roads to run on everywhere. And I want to do it because I do not want to suddenly catch sight of myself and realise I am fat and 40+.

It turns out that there is an unforeseen and unremembered benefit of pounding the roads and it has a lot of parallels with writing. Both are (largely) solitary pursuits. But both benefit from the input of others. Both require commitment to get the most out of them and the benefits they bestow are measurable.

But perhaps the greatest parallel is found in the middle of a run. In the moments when it is easy and, more often, in the moments when your body begrudges each breath, when ankles creak and it is easier to quit and collapse than it is to keep going. That's when you earn your spurs as a runner, when you look for and find the courage to go on, when something shifts deep in the silt of your soul, you grit your teeth and get it done. When the time you clock would disgrace a tortoise but you count it as a victory because you took yourself on and won.

And then the rationalisations start. That you can't call it a victory because you could have gone faster in the first mile, and there was that section where you felt fine so you were really holding back, and you weren't breathing that hard when you stopped so you could have got more out of yourself.

I have similar thoughts about writing. Sometimes it is easy and the pages fly past like a picket fence, and sometimes it is just about getting your head down and getting it done. It is about finding the courage to go on even if afterwards no-one knows what it took, what it took out of you and what it gave back.

Story writing has its post-race rationalisation too. That it's not as good as it could be because you liked that passage and you've left it in when you should take it out. And the similes are weak because you didn't have the guts to let them flow and it didn't take your breath away so it doesn't really count and next time, next time, the crowd will get to their feet when you turn in the manuscript because you didn't put a foot wrong. I don't think that's a real possibility but I'm taking steps to get there.
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