Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Plodding Along

Some famous wag/wit/writer once quipped, "I don't like writing. I like having written."

That's how I feel about jogging. I don't like jogging, I like having jogged.* 

While out on recent jog, I was struck by how similar writing and jogging are. sports_clipart_running_athlete

Both are solitary pursuits. When I write, I stick my butt in my chair and keep my fingers on the keyboard. With jogging, it's all about feet pounding pavement. Left, right. Left right. Nobody trails along or peers over my shoulder telling me how to jog (faster!) or how to write (faster!).

When I run**, I follow a pre-determined course. If I didn't, I'd get lost or lose track of how far I'd gone. When writing, I follow a pre-determined outline. Without one, I'd get lost, too. (Of course, I'm allowed to detour whenever I feel the urge, as long as I leave a trail of breadcrumbs or some detailed notes.)

Each is done for a finite "distance." When I run, I go 5K (5 kilometers), then stop. When I write, I go 2K (2000 words), then stop. After I've reached my daily quota, I'm free to do something else without guilt.

For me, both writing and running are marathons, not sprints. When you look up and you're at page 45 of a 300-page novel, you know you've still got some work to do. You've got to put your head down and keep on chugging. Ditto after hitting the one-mile mark. Just Do It.

Jogging and writing both build muscles and endurance. More importantly, they both build confidence. After you've run a few miles one day, you know you can run a few miles another day. Same for writing. Once you write ten pages, you know you can crank out twenty. Or fifty. Or a complete manuscript. Or a series...

Whether jogging or writing, I watch for hazards. On the road, potholes, traffic, rabid squirrels, and other obstacles appear in your path. If you let them, they can derail your progress. At the desk, you have to contend with the Internet, a stack of books to be read, the telephone, the Xbox, and a host of other diversions calling out to you, "Hey buddy, time to take another break. Come play with us. You know you want to." You have to learn to say, "Shut up, diversions!"

Jogging or writing, I break a sweat.

Jogging or writing, I'm always alert for roadkill--and it can be pretty ugly. (Sometimes in my first draft, when I've written something especially putrid, I'll change the color of the text to "white" so I don't have to keep seeing that particular roadkill until I'm ready to clean it up.)

Both can lead to aches and pains. Often when I run, my knees hurt. Often when I write, my head hurts.

Of course, there are some differences between jogging and writing. When I run, I listen to music on my MP3 player. When I write, I can't listen to anything, lest I won't be able to hear the voices in my head. (You know, the VOICES. The ones TELLING ME WHAT TO WRITE.***)

Frequently, when I'm running, I get great ideas about my writing--devilish plot twists, snippets of witty dialogue, the perfect way to describe the mole on a character's face. Sometimes I get so many ideas, I'm afraid I'll forget some of them before I get back. When I'm writing, I never get great ideas about my running. Not once have I thought, "Hey, maybe today I should try left, left, right, right."

After jogging for a while (years), I expect to be rewarded with low blood pressure. After writing for a while, and after turning in a complete manuscript to my agent or editor, I know I'll be rewarded with high blood pressure.

The bottom line is this: I feel good after I've jogged, and I feel good after I've written. So I guess I'll just keep right on plodding--and plotting--along.




*To be clear, when I say "jog," I mean plod. And by plod, I mean going at a pace somewhere between a slog and a saunter.

**Another euphemism for plodding.

***Yes, sometimes the voices SHOUT.


Lisa Bork said...

Good to know I'm not the only one who hears the voices! You're on your own with the jogging though.

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! I love the exquisite denial of making white your literary roadkill so you don't have to read it until you're ready to fix it.

G.M. Malliet said...

I'm at the editing stage. Talk about plodding.

With Lisa: Can't jog. Can't even stand the thought of a treadmill, although will tread under duress.

Terri Thayer said...

Nice piece, Alan. I just passed a squirrel roadkill on my walk today. White out would have been good.

I always plan my walk so I walk away from my house, and then find my way back. If I go near my house too early in the walk, I'll bail.

I don't know what that has to do with writing but I'm off to Starbucks to work.