From Kristine Katherine Rusch:
I read Runner’s World religiously. I think I got my subscription in the previous century, when I toyed with participating in the local triathlon. I wasn’t running then; I was swimming and biking to stay in shape. I subscribed to some swimming and cycling magazines as well, but those magazines didn’t hold my attention.
Runner’s World did, partly because it’s an exceptionally well-written, well-edited magazine. It’s not just a collection of notes about a sport I’m peripherally involved in.
. . . .
I started walking. Then, I added in running. I can’t tell you why, exactly, especially since I used to tell people I would never do it. Now, I run five times per week—or, in reality, I’m working my way back to that after the car incident of a few weeks ago. (Injury recovery: such fun.)
There’s something about running that’s kinda cool. People cheer you on. From a very drunk woman who stood in the doorway of her house and cheered me on like I was leading a race (maybe she saw 3 of me) to the occasional tourist who gives me a thumbs-up, people generally support what I’m doing…which I find really weird. It’s taken a while to accept that this is part of the running experience. No one cheered me on when I swam or rode my bike. No one gave me a thumbs-up when I got on the treadmill at the gym. Instead, in those instances, other exercisers and I would pretend that others didn’t exist.
One particularly cloudy day a month ago, a runner—sweat-covered, going much faster than I do—ran toward me on a long sidewalk near the highway. Just before we reached each other, he switched his water bottle from his right hand to his left, and kept that right hand up. Fortunately, I had a second to realize that he wanted to high-five. We did, and both of us kept going.
. . . .
Writers support each other too. If you’re lucky, you end up with a great support system, not just from your writing peers, but from your friends and family. They help you clear time to write. They make sure you have the right equipment. They read your work and celebrate with you when you make a sale to a traditional market or post your indie book into all the various retail sites.
But there’s a big huge difference between runners and writers, and I didn’t realize what it was, exactly, until I read two articles back to back this week.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the first. Stephen King wrote one of his every-five-years or so essays defending the prolific writer. His essays are always a little defensive, because he’s writing for the literary crowd, and always a little perplexed, as if he’s not sure why people complain when someone writes fast. (I’m perplexed about that too.)
. . . .
[I]t strikes me that in no other art does anyone have to timidly propose this thesis that King does:
My thesis here is a modest one: that prolificacy is sometimes inevitable, and has its place. The accepted definition — “producing much fruit, or foliage, or many offspring” — has an optimistic ring, at least to my ear.
Pianists practice. Jazz pianists often practice in public, with improv sessions that become legendary. Artists learn their craft by copying old masters, and then, once they’ve done that enough, artists sketch, often daily, sometimes hourly, and eventually put those sketches into something solid. No one ever told Picasso that he painted too much (as far as I know, anyway). And we’re always reading about some new painting, some new sketch, by some famous artist being discovered in an attic somewhere.
I’ve often used sports metaphors when I discuss writing. No one tells LeBron James that he needs to shoot fewer baskets in practice, so that he can save his best work for a playoff game. We get betterat something the more we do it, not worse. That’s how human beings are made.
. . . .
Around those superstar athletes are average-joe runners. Well, not average-joe in some of those big races, because those runners had to qualify. But we’re still talking a crowd of people. I mentioned New York, which had 50,564 finishers in 2014, which made it the biggest marathon ever. Average “important” marathons usually have 35-40,000 finishers.
That’s a lot of runners, most of whom have no hope of crossing the finish line first.
Note I didn’t mention “winning,” because runners are very clear about the varied definitions of winning. Winning for a non-elite athlete might be a personal best. Or it might be—as it was for me in my first (and so far only) 5K—just showing up. It might be finishing (also a victory for me in that 5K).
Willey discusses that in his July editorial. But it was this paragraph that caught my eye:
In any race, the last finisher is no more a “loser” than one who finishes in the middle, and I have just as much respect for the runner who stops the clock as I have for the one who breaks the tape. First and last are very different achievements, but both require guts, ability, and dedication. A 2:03 marathon (the current world record is 2:02:57) is inconceivable to me. But I couldn’t run for seven or eight hours, either.
I went back and started reading more carefully, and found this nugget as the article’s lede:
I’ve heard a version of it uttered at almost every big race I’ve ever run, usually as a way to calm prerace nerves. I’ve said it myself: “I know two things for sure. I’m not going to win and I’m not going to lose.” In other words, relax, run your own race, and try to enjoy it.
I stopped, and thought about that in conjunction with the Stephen King essay, and had a tiny epiphany about writers.
Writers always expect to win. Because they’re not trained to work, because there are a handful of examples every few years or so of someone who becomes a million-seller with his first novel, writers believe that lightning will strike them as well.
Writers never examine the amount of work that “lucky” beginning novelist has done before the big sale. Often that “lucky” beginner had writing success elsewhere in writing—as a journalist, maybe or in one case I’m familiar with, as a regional playwright. I can’t think of anyone whose very first bits of writing became a megaseller.
. . . .
I honestly believe that the attitude comes from the myths. Myths like writers shouldn’t write a lot or they won’t produce quality. Writers should write slowly to produce art. I’ve traced those myths before, and they aren’t in existence for the writers. They exist for the overworked teachers of writing.
The fact that Stephen King feels the need every few years to defend his “rapid” pace which, in the annuals of writing, isn’t that fast at all, should tell you how pervasive those myths are.
So, now, review that Runner’s World attitude. Think of a novel instead of a race. And rather than trying to “win” by making that novel perfect, think of it the way that Willey does before his races.
Relax. Write your own novel. Enjoy it.
Pull the expectations of megasuccess off it. Because if you’re acting out of the myths, you’ll make all kinds of mistakes. To stretch the running metaphor almost to the breaking point, if you go out too fast and hot in a 26.2 mile race, you will burn out or get injured.
Writers won’t write too much, but their expectations could injure them. If everyone who writes a novel expects to be the next J.K. Rowling [insert your favorite highly successful writer here], then almost everyone who tries to write a novel will be disappointed when that novel is finished.
Link to the rest at Kristine Katherine Rusch
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PG was raised on ranches and farms. (They call it a ranch in the American West and a farm in the American Midwest. Cattle are the same everywhere and the water heater for the stock tank always goes out on the coldest night of the year on both a ranch and a farm. When you have to break the ice with an axe, then reach down through the water to the bottom of the tank to fiddle with the heater for a few minutes, ranches and farms present identical experiences.)
Many years ago, PG was riding on a tractor while his father was mowing hay. (Yes, it may be dangerous to ride on a tractor when you’re not driving it, but it’s fun. Driving a tractor when you’re six years old is even more fun. Driving a big Caterpillar bulldozer when you’re eleven is heaven.)
The conversations PG had with his father while helping his father work or just hanging around while his father worked are some of PG’s best childhood memories.
On the particular occasion that comes to mind, PG’s father was talking about how much he loved ranching. He said that he thought the best measure of whether a man was in the right line of work is if that is what he would do even if nobody paid him to do so (so long as his family’s needs were met). That was the way PG’s father felt about ranching. In the nature of ranching and farming, there were seasons when he didn’t make any money, but he kept on doing it and always loved the work.
With respect to writing, PG thinks his father’s rule applies. Most authors write because they pretty much have to write. During the first months or years of writing, a whole lot of authors don’t earn any money, but they keep on writing because they love doing it.
If you can get paid while doing something you love, that’s a great thing. If you can support yourself and your family doing something you love, you’re in pretty much the best situation available.
When you think of the millions of people who work at jobs they hate because they absolutely must earn the salaries they’re paid, a writer who can support him/herself by doing something they love is immensely blessed.