In honor of the 50,000th word of my novel (which I wrote this week) and because I realized the other night that I started running (well, walking, which progressed to running) and writing within a few weeks of each other last fall, here’s a tribute to two of the most meaningful activities in my life right now.
10. It’s ok to take it slow.
Dave and I started out walking around the ‘big block.’ Then, we found a 3.5 mile loop, and got up to walking it three times every week. Finally, we started running in a couple of chunks. Then we started going 2 miles, and now I can do 3 some of the time. Sure, I could have done 3 once or twice at the beginning, but I wouldn’t still be doing it now, because it would have been too painful. How do I know that? Because I’ve tried it before.
Writing is similar. I started out trying to write an hour every day, but it was too much for me. The time intimidated me, and so I stopped trying entirely. It wasn’t until I went down to 30 minutes daily that I could write consistently. Now, my minimum goal is still 30 minutes but I usually write longer than that (though not usually an hour). Something is better than nothing, and a little something often becomes a bigger something later on.
9. Pain isn’t always bad.
No one told me how much running hurts. Now, part of that has to do with the exercise-induced asthma (more on that later) and the old cracked vertebrae. But those don’t account for all (or even most!) of the pain. My legs hurt. My neck hurts. My shoulders hurt. And it all ties back to running. As long as I’m upping my distance, I don’t see this changing. But I’m getting stronger and my body is healthy, so the pain is part of the process, as opposed to being a reason to stop the process.
With writing, the pain is more inside of me. I wonder if what I have is good enough, if anyone will ever want to publish it, if it will ever make sense to anyone other than me. I wonder if it’s worth my time and my energy. I also hurt because I write about things that hurt. Some of these are in me, my own hurts, and some of them are things I stumble upon in my characters or their lives, and I feel their pain.
8. If it’s not worth doing for internal reasons, it’s probably not worth doing.
There are a million possible external reasons to run. Some want to look better in others’ eyes. Some want to be stronger. Some want to run a race and get a decent time. But the sore muscles, the time spent not only pounding the pavement but also dressing, warming up, cooling down, showering, etc., and enduring the incredibly slow progress my body makes in improving cardiovascularly (due to the asthma thing) wouldn’t be worth it for me if my motivation didn’t come from inside. But I want to take care of my body. I want to avoid the heart disease that runs in my family. I want to know if, despite the asthma, I can be a runner. And so I endure it all.
There are at least as many possible external reasons to write. Getting published, impressing someone, seeing your name on a cover or in a by-line are all in this category. But the time, the effort overcoming doubts and wonderings, and the emotions I experience as my characters experience them wouldn’t be worth it if I wasn’t really writing for myself.
7. Doing something I love, and that is definitely right for me, can still be hard.
Getting out the door to run sometimes takes an act of God. Pulling out this computer to write often does, too. These are two of the things that give me a lot of fulfillment right now, but neither is easy for me. They’re natural, but hard. Somehow, I think we often expect that, if God wants us to do it and we want to as well, it’s going to be easy. But it’s not necessarily, and that’s ok. Sure, there are the glorious days when I feel myself with the energy to speed up as I head into my third mile, and there’s the fabulous feeling of having so much to say that I’m lost in a scene for 45 minutes, but those don’t happen every day. Often, God calls me to the toil, the work, the long slog through ankle-deep mud, with the glory entirely out of sight. This tests my faithfulness, my trust, my ability to live for the long-term, not the short. And, I’d like to think, helps make me into a person who might eventually be good at these things.
6. It’s ok to get some help.
When I run, I have to use an inhaler. I feel like I’m cheating, but if I don’t I feel like I’m pulling every breath through cheesecloth pulled tight over my windpipe–I can get air, but it’s harder than it should be. And my novel? Started from a random writing prompt I found somewhere online. That also feels like cheating, except that I know the idea was in me before the prompt helped birth it. But the help is ok. Just because these are things I want to pursue right now (and things I think it’s good for me to pursue right now) doesn’t mean that they are things I have to do all by myself.
5. I don’t have to be the best to be legitimate.
I have a couple of friends who run a mile in 6:30, and that’s after they’ve run several. I am not like them. I’m lucky if I can run a couple of 8s in a row, I can usually put up 10s, and on a hard day I’ll run 12s. It’s easy to think, “Oh, I’m not a real runner because I can’t do it as fast as those people,” but that’s not true. Runners just run.
I also know people who’ve been published more than I have, who have writing credits that far outweigh mine. It would be easy for me to say, “I’m not a writer until I’ve been published at such-and-such a level or so-and-so many times,” but that’s not true, either. Writers write.
4. It helps to have goals.
This is a tricky one for me. If I set a goal for myself regarding an activity that I love, I can focus more on reaching the goal and less on enjoying myself while I get there, which makes the fun activity a lot less fun. But in both running and writing, goals have helped me name my internal motivation and see things through. I want to run 10 miles a week consistently, and I want to write a novel this year. Neither of those are huge goals, and I might get beyond them quicker than I think, but they help me keep going. They help me focus my energy and steady myself on a course. I’m someone who can be easily distracted, and the goals keep me from doing that.
3. It’s ok to have a bad day.
Sometimes, my allergies are so bad that it’s hard to breathe even with my inhaler. Other days, an old back injury springs up and I just don’t think I should keep going. It scares me to stop, to not run as far as I’d like to, because I’m afraid I’ll never achieve my goals. But one bad day doesn’t negate the work I’ve done previously or indicate that all of the future days are going to go the same way. In fact, when I take the breaks my body needs, it seems better over the long-haul.
Some days, every word I write feels painful. Other days, all of the words just feel cludgy (this is one of those days, by the way). And on a few days, I forget to sit down and write entirely. But working through these difficulties, or changing projects for a day and writing something else, doesn’t hamper my overall progress. In fact, getting through that has shown me that taking a break can be good, that I won’t lose my place in my story or the emotions of a scene just because I need a rest from it.
2. It’s important for me to listen to myself.
This is tied to the previous thought. When I run, I need to listen to my body. If my knee hurts, I can determine if it’s just because the muscles are sore around it or because I’ve tweaked it, but only if I’m paying attention to it and have paid attention enough in the past to know the difference. If I’m tired, I can decide if I need to stop or push through it, but only if I know how the different kinds of tired feel in my body.
When I’m writing, I need to hear my heart from my heart. I’m not sure that makes sense, but it’s the best I can say it today. When I don’t listen that way, the words get wooden. The dialog doesn’t work. I write scenes that I end up deleting because they don’t jive with the rest of the book or the character. But when I listen to myself, when I stop writing for the world out there and write just for me, there’s flow. Sure, I need an audience, but they’ll know that what I write isn’t genuine if I don’t listen to myself in the process.
1. It’s ok to make mistakes.
I’m still learning how to run so my knee doesn’t hurt. It sounds crazy, but the position of my foot and how I hold my legs makes a world of difference. Sometimes, I do it wrong and end up in pain. But my body heals and gives me another chance. And, since I’m listening to it, I’m not going to intentionally or misguidedly do it wrong again. I might forget. I might be unable to find the stride that’s right, but it’ll be ok.
One of the characters in my novel is completely different now than she was at the beginning. Some of that is change in her, but some of it is the fact that I didn’t quite know who she was when I started. And just the other day, I looked at two of my characters, at how they interact, and thought, “You’re his mother, aren’t you.” I didn’t know that before. Sure, I’ll have to go back and change all of these things, weave my story together in a slightly different way, but I never would have found these things out if I hadn’t written through them, kept going, and found what was right later.
There are so many more lessons and thoughts and ideas that these two activities have brought me, but there’s my 10 for today. Have a Happy Easter, everyone! (Saying that reminds me of the radio announcer I heard on Friday…the Christian radio announcer, nonetheless…who wished everyone a “Happy Good Friday,” which seemed a little…um…misplaced, to me.)