Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Writing and Running

I’ve been (belatedly, if that’s possible with reading and books) reading Haruki Murakami’s, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I should say that he is (by my lights) a very serious runner, a fact I only point out because it’s often not the case when fiction writers write about running.

His second chapter is titled, Tips On Becoming a Running Novelist. Hey, I thought to myself, that’s me. The essay is a lovely meditation on the similarities between writing and running, the work of it, the gift of it, the joy of it, the solitariness and so on. My partner was reading over my shoulder as I started the chapter and he asked, “So is the chapter about how to write if you’re a runner? Or how to run if you’re a writer?”

Good question.

Well, it was really about neither, but his question was thought provoking and I thought I’d undertake, in this and my next post, to look at both sides of the coin, both questions he posed.

So, to the first—on writing for runners.

It seems like many (possibly most) people I talk to have a “story” inside of them they want to tell.

How to start?

The same way you start running, actually; that is, one foot in front of the other, or in the case of writing that would be one word after another. When you first start running, it doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, if you aren’t the type to sign up for races and set goals, but would rather just enjoy running for what it is, then it may never “make sense,” at least not sense in the way people think things automatically do if there’s an end in mind. Happiness, of course, is an “end,” and a sensible reason to do something, we just haven’t counted it as such, though that’s changing.

Writing is the same. It’s best to start without an end in mind, without a sensible reason (i.e. I’m writing a novel or a memoir or…). And then see where your mind takes you. In fact, think about your mind when you’re running alone (which is how you’ll be when you’re writing)—your mind is roaming around freely. You might set it the task of solving some problem, but likely it will take off on a tangent. Write like that! Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just start, no editing, no erasing, no stopping and pondering.

Just like running.