[For many authors running and writing not only complement each other, they also share numerous similarities. In today’s guest post, journalist/debut author Meg Mitchell Moore (The Arrivals coming May 25, 2011) describes what it really takes to cross a finish line and/or type “The End.”]
I am certainly not the first writer to address the parallels between running and writing, and undoubtedly I won’t be the last. (Debut author Rebecca Rasmussen wrote a fabulous post on the topic recently for this very site: Semper Fi.)
The reason running and writing inspire so many comparisons are because, well, they have a lot of similarities. I have been doing both for a long time. Both writing and running require enormous amounts of discipline. Both are solitary pursuits—you may run with a partner or show your writing to a critique group or a trusted agent or editor, but when you’re in the middle of a long, hard slog at the desk or on the road there’s nobody else who can do the work for you. Both often feel better when complete than during the act itself. Both are painful when done to the best of one’s abilities! (I’m not selling either pursuit very well, am I?) Both produce a sort of “high” on a good day. (Better?)
One additional reason I want to write about running in this post is to tell you about an event I witnessed earlier this year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix meet at Boston’s Reggie Lewis track. The competitors in the men’s 3,000-meter race gathered at the starting line. In the controlled chaos that marks the beginning of many elite distance races, Ethiopian runner Dejen Gebremeskel lost a shoe, probably when another runner inadvertently stepped on his heel. This was an indoor track meet, which means competitors in the 3,000-meter race run 15 laps around the track. Nobody would have faulted Gebremeskel if he had stepped off the track after losing a shoe in the very first lap. (The sock, for the curious among you, remained on.) Gebremeskel’s gait was compromised, and he risked injury that could have put the rest of his indoor season in jeopardy. Not to mention that the unshod foot was particularly vulnerable to the spikes of the other runners’ shoes. Because of the rubber track, he said later, his foot was burning. He got blisters. (Ever try running with blisters? It hurts! A lot.) But. Gebremeskel didn’t step off the track. He ran the entire 15 laps with one shoe, then, with the crowd cheering him on, he won the race, overtaking Mo Farah, the anointed favorite, in the last few steps.
Let me say it one more time. The guy with only one shoe won the race!
I thought Gebremeskel’s race was an act of extreme courage, and I find myself thinking about it every so often with a mixture of awe and envy. I also find a lot of inspiration in the memory. And here we go again with the parallels between writing and running, with a different twist. The acts of courage writing requires rarely (okay, never) happen in front of hordes of foot-stomping fans in a televised event; they are, more often than not, as solitary as the pursuit of writing itself. They look something like this. Maybe you go back into a book and revise again, again, again to make it as close to the vision you began with as you can. Maybe you abandon a book you’ve spent months or years on when you know it’s not working. Maybe you query one more agent even though you think another rejection might put you over the edge or send you running for the scotch bottle. Maybe you swallow your pride and accept a painful critique that, deep down, you know is correct. Maybe you ignore the people who wonder why you’re spending so much time and energy on something that may never see the light of day.
I know not every reader of this site is a writer, but to those of you who are, these are all acts of courage, every single one of them. One foot in front of the other, one word after another (or, as Anne Lamott tells us, bird by bird), one day after the next after the next. Maybe nobody sees it, maybe nobody notices, but you writers know what you’re doing: you’re finishing the race with one shoe missing.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher (aka Julianna Baggott) in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Julianna Baggott (aka Bridget Asher) and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.