In college I took an essay-writing course that I loved. A woman in our class wrote an essay one week called “Writing and Running.” Even though it was a long, long time ago, I remember it clearly because of what she said. She said that she dreaded writing and running but she made herself do them both everyday. It always made her feel better. I’m the same way. When I lace up my sneakers I dread the run ahead. Afterwards, I feel great. (Lest I sound like some sort of athlete here, I do baby, fake runs that don’t hurt. You should know the truth.)
I feel the same way about writing. I dread it, but I need it. I can’t think straight otherwise, and that’s just like running for me. But it took me a long time to face this particular fact.
I turned 40 last year. 39 was a hard year for me; it felt like a year of reckoning. What I had done. What I wanted to do. What I had to accept at this point of my life about who I am.
I had three goals I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40: I decided to run a marathon, publish a book, and get a passport. The only thing I didn’t get to was the passport, which is arguably the easiest item on the list. I just pushed it to the side, because I was too busy writing. And running.
Here’s the thing: I never really wanted to run a marathon, but I wanted to prove it to myself that I could run a marathon. See the difference? And even though I am not a stellar athlete, and I’m not always the most rigorous person, I told myself I could do it. You know how I knew?
Because other people do it.
I know that other people aren’t magic, so I studied training programs and I read runner blogs and just basically followed the advice of thousands of people before me. I laced up my sneakers and followed a plan. And I did it. I didn’t enjoy running a 26.2 mile road race — particularly not the last 13.1 miles — but I’m glad I finished what I started.
For the record, there’s no way in hell I will ever do that again.
But it taught me an important lesson. About writing. And publishing. And life.
‘Cause here’s the thing. Even though I never wanted to be a professional runner, I always wanted to be a professional writer. In grade school. In high school. In college. Even in law school, although I lost my way for a little while before, during and after that.
So I took what I learned about running a marathon and I applied it to writing. First, I looked around. Thousands upon thousands of people had written books and gotten them published. [Note: Even I had written a book; it’s never been published and never will be (see post about Failure, below), but I knew it was physically possible for me to complete the task.] I wanted to write a publishable book, so I read blogs from people who were successful at writing. I read a lot of books. (I’ve always read a lot of books.) I looked at the market and thought about what was popular in books right now, and I saw where I might be able to fit into a genre. I made a plan and I followed it.
And then I wrote a book. Every day for five months. You know how I knew I could do it? Because other people do it. And there is no such thing as magic people — we’re ALL muggles. I know that I’m not the most talented writer, and I’m not always the most rigorous person, but I made a plan and I followed it. I’ve published my second book and I’m working on a new series. And people — not all people, mind you — but people seem to really like my books. (Some people think they suck.)
If I’m being honest I’d tell you I’d love to quit, to stop obsessing, stop subjecting myself to sometimes maddeningly slow sales or a bad review, to just sit and watch HBO with my husband. But I just can’t. I won’t. Because here’s the thing, the thing about being who you are, and doing what you need to do: it’ll catch up with you eventually. It may take a while, like it took me. But you can’t hide from yourself. Listen to the voices in your head. They are your dreams. Your ambitions. Do not run from your dreams and your ambitions. They will not leave you alone, and if they do, well…then maybe you’re better off than me.
But even though there are some nights when I want to slam my head into the monitor, or some mornings when I’m looking at my watch and counting the minutes I can get off the treadmill, I keep putting one foot in front of the other, one more word on the page at a time. The alternative is a straightjacket. The alternative is a pig in a cage. On antibiotics. (Or whatever they said in that Radiohead song.)
The upside? I actually love writing. It always makes me feel better, just like running. So even when I think about quitting — walking, stopping, or shutting off the computer — I know better. I know to stay the course, because even though it doesn’t get any easier, you do get better at it.