January is often full of good intentions. I like to write lists, some people use spreadsheets, others dream. There’s no wrong way to nurture your ambitions.
This month I’m deep in marathon training for Brighton on 2nd April. Madness, I know (I blame my daughter ). My brain is not impressed – I’m 59, got a sore knee, it hasn’t stopped raining for weeks, now it’s sub-zero and who in their right mind wants to get up before dawn or spend all Sunday running for hours? But one thing I’ve discovered (and plenty of writers can also testify to this, including Haruiki Murakami, author of What I Talk about when I Talk about Running) is that long distance running and writing are linked. This applies to all writing, not just the mammoth undertaking of a novel, because short stories require rewriting, editing, rereading, refining. We spend literally hours and hours on them. I have a training plan (supplied by my daughter, along with gold stars) and I’m doing it without question, partly because I love awarding myself that sticker at the end of a session. I am a sucker for the carrot! Why don’t I do the same, even figuratively speaking, when I write? Do you? I’m not sure writers in general are very good at recognising quite how much effort they put in.
It’s not just the ‘training’ where writing and running have so much in common. It’s the act of running itself. I might be reluctant or fearful to start. My mind throws up objections – I’m not good enough, it’ll hurt, it’s too hard. But I do start and I’m feeling okay, then my mind throws more tricks – I have a phantom pain in my calf, I should be doing XYZ, look at everyone else so much faster, fitter, younger, better than me. I don’t even have the right kit! So I have to breathe deeply, let those thoughts go, just like the critic on our shoulder. I let all thoughts go. People ask what do I do during a two or three hour long run. The answer is nothing and everything. I observe myself, my surroundings, my mind games and I keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the goal, the focus, the point. It’s a meditation. I let go of my doubts, niggles, questions. In doing so, I build up resilience and self belief that I can go out next Sunday and do it again and that every squat I do between now and then is aiding me, so I stop even grumbling about them (although I still hate planks!).
I think writing requires a similar inward gaze to quieten the incessant chatter and clamouring doubts. We just have to put one word down after another, exercising those creative muscles, gaining strength and confidence and joy as we find our own pace, our own rhythm, our own breath.