Writing on Running

Ever finish a book and just feel… electrified by it? Like you couldn’t stop reading, but were torn by the knowledge that if you kept reading it, it would eventually end, and then… then what?

Totally going through that right now. I know that I write fiction (and blogs, which are, I suppose, an odd form of ‘creative nonfiction,’ a term that still weirds me out), and I know I said I was going to write about what I was reading in that field, but I just finished an incredible nonfiction book (creative nonfiction, since we’ve already gone there) that has made my mind race a hundred miles an hour and my nerves ache for something crazy and primal and insane.

Let’s start this from the long, convulted route:

Last year, I watched a video from Runner’s World in which they interviewed Flea, who was running the Los Angeles marathon for the first time, and wearing these crazy shoes that looked like the toe-socks I used to wear all the time during ballet barre (true story, not to break anyone’s heart, but we dancers don’t always wear our proper shoes in rehearsal). Flea, in his late-40s, randomly decided to run the marathon after training for only a handful of months, in part to raise money for the Silverlake Conservatory (a non-profit music school for kids that Flea co-runs in LA).

What motivated him to start running? He read a book that inspired him and made him think about running in a different way. The book? Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

While I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in this book, I was definitely interested in Flea’s story. I’d just done my first half-marathon (walked it), and I was feeling ready to start running. Flea’s interview and his infectious enthusiasm were the things that pushed me over the edge into Runner-Land.

And finally, a full year later, I decided to check out this book at last. As I mentioned, it’s not the type of book I typically read (I tear through books similar to what I write: lots of YA paranormal stories, for the most part), but I decided to give it a try, since I’ve started to seriously get back into running (that’s another long, convoluted story for another day, the injury that kept me off the road for the better part of 6 months).

By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. The book, while packed with factual information and statistics about running, runners, and even evolution, is also fascinating. It tells the story of Caballo Blanco, an American who embedded himself in the world of the Tarahumara, a native people living in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, who also happen to be the most insanely good runners of all time. It’s not only skill that makes them so amazing at their art: it’s endurance, perseverence, and also just pure joy.

The book does more than just tell the story of some wicked good marathoners though. McDougall weaves in facts about the science of running, and why the American approach to running (i.e. our obsession with gear and artificial improvement) clashes in so many ways with that science. It tells the story of ultramarathoners, native people who live to run (and live because they run), and opens up an entire world of questions about running.

What got me in the end (spoiler alert!) was the unifying reality of why we run. Sure, there’s competition in a marathon, with prize money and corporate sponsorship and fame to the winners, but there’s also that incredible feeling of running in a pack of other runners, of being shoulder-to-shoulder with people you haven’t ever even spoken to, yet who are tied to you forever, even if just because of those hours you’re racing together. It’s the surge of pure energy that comes from running that unifies us, that breathes life into us (even when we feel like we’re going to run out of breath).

For me, writing is not just the act of sitting down at my computer or notebook and making words happen in an order that forms a story. To write, I need a soundtrack. I need music that moves me, propels me forward. I need snacks to munch on (seriously, writing makes me so hungry, I can’t explain it). I need the right location for the moment, whether it’s my office or a coffeeshop or a restaurant who doesn’t matter if I’ve got my notebook open while I’m sipping a glass of wine.

But I also need mental clarity. I need a mind that is open, and less anxious. Sure, writing helps clear out anxiety, but the writing that’s going to be readable, that generally has to come from a clear and open space. Running, even with my busted-up back and my pathetic excuse for lung capacity, gives me that clarity.

Just like I sometimes need to slip away into the woods, or off to the beach, or to a really quiet library with really dense carpeting, just to clear my head so I can focus on writing, I’m beginning to feel like I need running in that way. It’s time with me, the road, my Fire-Island-dance-club running mix, and my characters, running along beside me, and whispering me their secrets between intervals.

I ate up every single bite of this book, and as I finished the final page, I felt this rush of energy, like I couldn’t tell if I wanted to immediately lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement, or if I wanted to drive off to Cook Forest with my notebook for the night, or if I could get all of my thoughts to settle down into a straight line long enough to write this blog entry. (I guess it’s clear which of those I finally decided on ;))

One of the most fascinating things to me about writing is the different process we all go through. Every writer has his or her own method – this comes up regularly at our NaNoWriMo Write-Ins, as we compare and contrast methods to make the writing work. For me, it’s become more and more clear how much I need to tie into both my physical and mental well-being in order to make the word-magic happen. I am incredibly grateful to have found this out, and grateful to have found a book that’s helped me get even closer to putting all the pieces together.

Even if you don’t presently run, check this book out. It’s inspiring any way you look at it, and who knows, one of these foggy mornings, I might see you out there with your characters, chasing their stories across the pavement too.

Writer’s Retreat Update

I can’t lie: this trip is pretty great. I haven’t written anything truly monumental (yet – the night is still young!), but I have made quite a lot of progress thought-wise. Also, being out and about at Presque Isle has just been good for my soul. I grew up in the woods (my earliest writing escape location, before I was old enough to go to coffeeshops on my own, was this random hunters’ treestand in the woods behind my parents’ house), and I just need to return there every month or so to plug myself back in to… myself.

So far on this trip, I:

~ Was waved at by an Amish family standing on an overpass above the highway.
~ Got lost in a TallyHo parking lot.
~ Finished the first draft of my synopsis (which weighs in at 6 pages… hence the ‘first draft’ part).
~ Went running along Lake Erie.
~ Took Miss Lucy to the beach for the first time, where she was confused and perplexed by how to walk in sand.
~ Went to a supercute coffeeshop called Brick House Coffee, where I rewrote that pesky first paragraph.
~ Had a delicious Caesar salad, even though it was at a chain restaurant (O’Charley’s).
~ Also had the best portabella sandwich of my life at Pufferbelly’s, a restaurant that used to be a fire station.
~ Sat on a park bench on the beach and watched the sun set while making notes about my novel in my notebook.
~ Failed to pull up close enough to a drive-thru ATM, and accidentally only reached as high as the ‘Spanish’ button instead of ‘English’ and had to try to translate ATM directions on the fly.

Now it’s time to start the paring-down process of the synopsis, and then maybe put in a little extra time on the first chapter before bed. Lucy and I are off to home around 10 tomorrow morning, but I think we’re going to sneak in one last little romp around Presque Isle before we get on the road.

I sense a weekend of query-sending ahead of me… :)

Writer Retreat

Okay, sorry AGAIN for the delay between posts! To say that life is a little crazy is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been writing a bunch (and doing a bunch of things I haven’t yet had a chance to write about) on 101 Achievements, and sitting on the back steps of my house, trying to find where I should start on tearing up my yard to make some functional gardens (which has so far been so overwhelming that I am literally just sitting in the backyard and staring).

So obviously, my book, and my writing blog, and my general Carrie-Bradshaw-esque existence has been pushed to the backburner (except for the Carrie Bradshaw parts about going out to eat and reading fashion magazines – those, I’ve been pretty consistent about).

Which brings us to today, to a place where I do not live, with my little red sidekick.

Lucy Peeking
“Mommy, are you bloggin bout me agains?”

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the hotel beyond the City of Pittsburgh to take back the novel that I have forgotten about.

Yeah. That’s about it: I took myself on mini-holiday so I have no excuse to not sit around and WORK ON MY BOOK. (And play in the woods. I’m going to do some of that tomorrow, too.)

I don’t know what it is about a change of pace, a change of scenery. There’s something about being in a hotel room, or on a train, that clears my mind a little. I think it’s because I can’t think about dusting, since there’s someone who comes in to do that every morning for me.

So, I thought I’d actually dust off this blog (haha, see that agents? I’ve got transitions DOWN TO AN ART) and tell you my goals for this little trip:

~ Write a real knock-out of a synopsis.
~ Prepare about five queries to go out in the week.
~ Think really hard about what my business card is going to say for the blogger conference in two weeks.
~ Play in the woods.
~ Take my dog to the beach.
~ Nail the first chapter with a finesse that will surprise even me, the author.
~ Try out some new coffeeshops.
~ Find a wicked good Casear salad.
~ Run.
~ Read a few more chapters in Born to Run

I have somehow managed to snag the most majestic hotel room desk for the purposes of this trip. Behold:

Writer Retreat
Pretty sweet, right? I mean, ignoring the little pouty one in the front of the frame.

I have Yelped my coffeeshops beforehand, and I have MapQuested the state park I’m going to visit. I brought a jug of water, two bottles of wine (a Zin and a Malbec, since I know you’re wondering), and a whole load of poo bags for Miss Lucy. I also made a list of first sentences and paragraphs from my favorite YA books (and other, less-favorite, but massively-successful ones as well), to help me figure out what my first sentence needs to ZING.

And I promise I won’t use buzzwords like ‘zing’ anymore, unless I start writing Batman comics.

Wish me luck. I’ll be sure to update again about the progress (because blogging is an excellent distraction from the writing I’m *supposed* to be doing).