I first met Molly on Twitter and was instantly a fan of her blog thanks to this fantastic post on editing, which, as a dedicated word-nerd, is a skill-slash-torment that I obsess over. Coincidentally, we both write fiction (my book has just been released, and hers will be coming out at any moment), so it seemed like perfect timing to share and blog about our writing stories and ideas with each other. For me, the process of writing and running are inevitably intertwined–I’ve “written” most of two novels while running–and Molly asked me to describe how running has helped my writing. So, in a nutshell…
We’ve all been there. Spending untold hours at our desks, staring at our screens until our eyes have taken on the texture of cotton balls, beating our heads against our keyboards trying to find the right words: the ones that will make that off-sounding paragraph better; the ones that will fix those flaws in word choice or story structure; the ones that don’t clatter and twist in the wind like smiling skeletons dangling from a noose, mocking us. Jaw hurting from gritting your teeth, your breathing shallow and sporadic from hunching over your work like a Wellsian Morlock, and the glass of water that was dripping with condensation when you sat down having turned into a science experiment from all the dust and cat hair that have landed in it as the hours of writing and editing have ticked, ticked, TICKED tortuously by.
You review that problematic sentence again, praying to Hemingway, Wilde, even Dr. Suess that something new will occur to you. That poor choice of words is like a riddle that you know you must solve or the scary monster in the dark will eat you. The frustrating perseveration of your brain makes it spin like a hamster in a ball as it rolls the same sentence around and around for the sixty-five-thousandth time, gaining momentum, but never escaping the same, confining bubble. You begin to doubt yourself, start telling yourself that you’re not really a writer, just some semi-literate fraud who can barely handle sentences more complex and interesting than “Jack and Jill went up the hill.” You consider trading your computer in for a Duncan yo-yo and maybe starting a street show. Step right up folks and watch as the most amazing yo-yo savant alive performs the first ever quintuple Around the World!
As you agonize on your spectacular failures as a writer and all around human being, it occurs to you that there are a few things you can do better than write, and now may be the time to divert to one of them. You can run. Running is easy; it takes no more mental or physical dexterity than placing one foot in front of the other. Surely you can accomplish that!
Wrestling for a few moments longer between lacing up your trainers or torturing yourself over this egregious, troll of a sentence, the promise of a slow, steady endorphin-drip finally pulls you away. You stand, marveling at the exuberance with which blood returns to your numbed feet. You note with a touch of worry the fulminous volume of the cracks and pops playing a symphony up and down your spine as you stretch your back. Then you put on your running clothes and step outside.
For the first mile, all you can think about is the pain your unnaturally shortened and cramped muscles are experiencing, but you continue your forced lope onwards. Not long later, you begin to look around you, noticing the brilliance of the blue sky and sucking down the crisp, clean air that tastes of pure joy. As your heart settles into a lusty rhythm and your lungs expand, so does your mind, and soon you realize it’s dipping back into your manuscript. But instead of resentment, you feel a detached pleasure as your thoughts wander to those particular turns of phrase or plot points that you’ve already written–and that you know are good. Good! You remember how you felt when you wrote those words describing your character’s unique and funny quirks, and when you so brilliantly tied the protagonist and their call to action together, and you gratefully remember how lovely some of those descriptive paragraphs really are.
By mile three you realize you can actually write, you do actually have some talent, you are actually not the hack you were afraid you were! And suddenly, with a stroke of Euclidian clarity, the fix to that troubling sentence gushes through your consciousness like the blooming of a lotus. So simple, so elegant, so magical. It was there all along; it just needed you to step back and give it room to breathe. And you’ve done it. Riddle solved.
But your happiness and enthusiasm are not limited to that one sentence. As the barely noticed ground disappears behind your steady, free-floating legs, the writer in you continues to plot and develop. Your next scene is already unfurling, and you can see with the lucidity of a mountain-top mystic exactly where it will take your characters. By the time you’re ready to return home, you know that the momentum that began as a self-imposed jog of perdition will continue to carry you through your manuscript in an all out, victorious sprint.
Tammy won her first writing contest in the second grade and has been word-nerding ever since. As an ex-paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Tammy’s writing is often as gritty as a grunt’s pile of three-week-old field gear. Contract of Defiance (You can find it here on Amazon) won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold contest in 2010 for best action/thriller novel, and its followup, Contract of Betrayal, will be out in Spring 2013. She also has several short stories published in small horror and literary magazines. When not hunched like a Morlock over her writing desk, Tammy works in behavioral-science research, runs and bikes the foothills of Colorado, and endlessly debates the merits and drawbacks of coffee versus green tea with herself. (Follow my hilarious friend Tammy on Twitter @TammySalyer, and visit her blog!)
About Contract of Defiance: In a few hundred years, the Algol system becomes humanity’s new home. The question is: is it a better one? When a crew of arms smugglers botches their latest job, Corp-deserter and crewmember, Aly Erikson, is separated from her brother, the only person she can trust, and left behind to fight for her life. In the aftermath, as she tries to piece together what happened, a crew of roughneck settlers pressgang her into a dangerous mission in the heart of Corp territory. Time is running out to get back everything she’s lost: her crew, her brother, and her options. But no one is taking her gun.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and you’ll never miss my weekly posts! Just enter your email address in the upper right corner of this page. It’s easy, and I won’t share your email address with anyone!