Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One Foot in Front of the Other

I recently read a book by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING is a memoir about the twin forces in his life that matter most to him - writing and running. For Murakami, running and writing share much in common, and to do either, he feels, one needs the same qualities - endurance and focus. I agree. And although Murakami is a prize-winning, internationally acclaimed novelist, and a marathon runner who logs in over 60 miles a week, and I am not an internationally acclaimed author (yet) and I log in around 15 miles a week (and that will likely never go up), I found great inspiration from his book.

I love the idea that the very things that keep me going on a run - will, endurance, mind over matter - can and should keep me going at the computer. I tend to give up on my writing a little too easily, but if I were to treat writing as I do running - not giving up even when I feel like I can't breathe, or my stomach hurts, or I'm beating myself up about how weak I am - I'd get a lot more writing done. I'd log in the number of pages a week that I aspire to, instead of quitting early, when I don't like what I'm doing.

Murakami stresses that while good writing usually doesn't happen without a certain amount of talent, it's really these other qualities that get one to the finish line. I guess Woody Allen said it all a long time ago - success is 1% talent, 99% perspiration. Or was it 99% showing up? In any case, it was refreshing to hear Murakami discuss how hard it is for him to write, and run, despite his tremendous success.


  1. I really like this comparison between writing and running! I've never been great on speed but endurance has always been a personal strength.

    (Right now though, I'm using my third trimester as an excuse for a bit less endurance than usual. I'm proud to be walking 2 miles on the treadmill most days-- but my ability to concentrate on my writing is nowhere near normal. After I get through the first few sleep deprived newborn weeks, I'm going to have to read this again for inspiration. :o) )

  2. I am not a runner, I have little endurance, and I do not like to sweat. Lately I have been giving up on my work too quickly, almost as if I've developed writer's ADD. I am quickly bored by my WIPs (notice the plural) and move on.

    I do, however, have strength (both physical and emotional) that gets me through the tough times. I write because I love it. I have fun doing research and learning new facts that no one else cares about. I like imagining different worlds where these facts matter in a life or death sort of way.

    So while I am never going to run a marathon (or even a 5K) I am in my writing for the long haul. Where I finish doesn't matter (i.e. getting published would be nice, but I'm not counting on it) but I do have to finish.

  3. On the other hand, unlike with running, with writing you have no idea when or where you'll cross the finish line...if ever!

    Meg: Not sure why you say you're not counting on getting published. You have a pb coming out, remember? You're just between gigs. :-)

  4. Something else, in addition to endurance, that runners and writers share is habit.
    The runners I know can be grumpy if their daily running routine is interrupted.

    I guess writers are lucky because even if they don't have time to sit and put words to paper, they can be happy thinking about writing . . . planning that perfect paragraph in their picture book or novel.

  5. Janice, I mean beyond the PB...
    Not a Negative Nancy but a Realistic Rebecca.

  6. Meg: I know that's what you meant. There's only one way to guarantee that you will not get published beyond your pb--stop trying. This you cannot do. You cannot do this. Cannot do you this. Signed, Positive Polyanna, aka PP :-)

  7. I'm not stopping.

    I'm putting one foot in front of the other, but I'm no longer anticipating the finish line to include lunch boxes!

  8. That's it -- I'm getting one of those computer stations attached to a treadmill. Two habits for the price of one!

  9. I'm big on endurance too, though I'm lousy at speed. I hope it will get me through my own WIPs (also in the plural; I may be big on endurance, but I'm also a little flighty when it comes to sustained effort on ONE WIP at a time. Ahem.)

    And hang in there, Brianna; getting through a third trimester takes incredible endurance!

  10. Thanks for the encouragement, Mary! I like thinking of it like that. With the pregnancy pushing me to the limits of my endurance, no wonder it's challenging to find much energy left to focus on writing! : o )