Milchtoast

Chronicles of a writer abroad

Running and writing: an extended metaphor

6 Comments

There’s a lot of running advice available to those who want to read it. So much advice, in fact, that deciding which books, magazines, and online articles to read can be daunting, and can suck up a lot of time that you could have used to…well, go running. Some of the advice is good, some of it is detrimental. Some of it works for some people, and not for others.

When I trained solo for a marathon, I sought out a lot of advice. Some of it was highly technical. But what I remember today, and what was most useful, was very simple advice that went along these lines: start gently, and build slowly. But be persistent; keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. To my amazement, I found that I was able to take one step after another, all the way to the finish line. As a result of that journey, I arrived at a place where I was comfortable saying to people: “I’m a runner.”

If I’m going to blog honestly about my life in Zürich, then I’m going to have to risk boring you, from time to time, with my reflections on running and writing. These threads are woven deeply into my everyday life, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that they are twin threads, composed of the same fiber.

In both things, starting slowly is of utmost importance. A person who can’t run the 5K distance probably shouldn’t sign up for a marathon; a new writer might find themself hopelessly mired when thinking about the amount of work that goes into a novel (I know this is often the case for me). In both things, there are sudden challenges — the runner’s hill is the writer’s moment of realizing that he or she doesn’t know how to make a scene work, or that characters are refusing to stand up and tell the reader who they are. In both things, there are periods of boredom, feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, and epic battles against inertia. In both things, there are injuries: moments when one’s body, one’s pride, or one’s sense of “this is worth doing” is greatly challenged or wounded.

Admitting that you engage in either running or writing regularly can cause others to question your sanity, or your instinct for self-preservation. Why are these activities –both of them frequently painful — worth doing? For me, they offer similar rewards. The scenery gets to me, first of all. I get to see things that I never would have if I was sitting on the couch — exciting and beautiful things that I never knew existed within my city or within my imagination. I get to see progress: as I add up my miles, or tally my word count, I notice that my stride or my prose has gotten a little smoother along the way. I write things and run distances that I never would have believed myself capable of; I get the feeling that I am developing, getting stronger. Maybe most importantly, I still feel the excitement of starting out on a run or a writing session with a loose plan, but without knowing exactly where I’ll end up going.

There is a lot written about writing (not surprisingly, I guess). Just as a runner can pore over the minutiae of hydration, fueling, intervals, and tapering, a writer of fiction can obsess over whether their plot is in good shape, their dialogue is working well, their characters are believable. All things that I need and want to learn more about, and that I will learn more about. But it’s more basic advice that keeps me afloat on a day-to-day basis. Advice that says, “just keep writing, and let the experience pile up.” Advice that says, you can and you should (thanks, Stephen King, for the permission slip). Acknowledgement from other writers that it’s hard, but it’s worthwhile, as I have found to be true about running.

I’m not someone who is comfortable saying to people, in response to the question of what I do: “I’m a writer.” But I am sitting here, building slowly, being persistent; putting down one word after another. Hoping to someday cross that line.

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6 thoughts on “Running and writing: an extended metaphor

  1. A fine bit of self-analysis today, Kristen, set out in a thoughtful way. I particularly like the message that comes through: start small (an article instead of a full length novel?) but continue the discipline. That applies to life it seems to me, no matter what one’s calling may be.
    Boppy and I are so pleased that you have found writing to be what you really want to do. Love you.

  2. beautiful words about your identity

  3. I love my visits here, and the writing I find. For me, and for other bloggers who visit sites regularly, writing like yours is a window on another world. Sometimes, like that city photo you posted a while ago, it can provide lines of fascinating enquiry.

    Long live Milchtoast 🙂

  4. Someone I follow on Twitter shared this gem:

    @Ihnatko wrote: “If you’re creative, or just hope to be, this essay will be hugely helpful: “How to Steal Like An Artist”
    http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/

    Man, is it ever good advice!

    Love,

    -Paul

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