Writing is a funny thing. For some of my writer friends, they feel like they have to force themselves to sit and write. And they can’t wait to escape when it’s done. Actually, it’s a lot like running. I know people who run, even though they hate it. They do it, because it’s supposed to be good for them. Sounds perfectly agonizing.
For me, writing and trail running are a form of therapy. On the writing front, I regularly “unload” my thoughts into my diary journals. During the crushing days and months following one of several big relationship breakups in my life, it was writing, running, and cycling that helped relieve the emotional stress. Journaling also helped me address my grief, anger, and rejection and allowed me to move forward.
An interesting by-product of writing regularly is that the voice in my head starts narrating my life, as if trying to organize experiences into some kind of coherent meaning — instead of just letting me experience the moment in peace and quiet (meditation helps with this). Even while I was out running the 170 kilometre Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) this summer, I sometimes found myself composing passages and narrating to myself what I was experiencing. It was kind of like travelling with an annoyingly chatty friend. Now I’m not trying to get down on my inner voice, but words can be puny and limiting in face of such mountainous grandeur.
Like writing, running also requires discipline. If you wanna race in the Spring, then you have to face many cold winter days training to get ready (if you live in the north). Wanna be a better writer? Then you better be putting in the time crafting your thoughts and developing your story instincts.
I’ve never considered myself a naturally talented writer. What I’ve achieved is simply the product of hard work. As a kid, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, which meant I had to go to a special school for a few years. I worked really hard so that I wouldn’t have to stay in that “special” program – and that effort finally paid off, when I rejoined the regular education system. The experience really instilled in me the importance of working hard every day to achieve my goals.
For over two decades now, I try to find time every day to write — whether in a journal, a blog, or a piece of fiction. Why? Because when I write, time disappears and I enter a mental space that can only be described as blissful. That same no-mind state usually finds me running on the trails, too. Hours can pass in what feels like a fraction of a second.
OK, I’m going to drop the running-writing comparison now…
Writer Ian Adams once passed along a gem of advice: always have several projects going at the same time (to prevent writer’s block or boredom). So as I was wrapping up my TMB article, I was also feverishly integrating the notes I’d been given by a reader on my book project, Josef’s Lair. The sense of urgency came from knowing that I wanted to pitch the project to literary agents by mid-September. Currently, I am getting down to drafting letters to the agents. It may not be as fun writing business letters, but it is still a creative process that requires wordsmith skills.
When I think back to starting Josef’s Lair in 1994, I really thought I was going to be an instant success. I was going to be a writer and photographer and travel the world, getting paid for what I loved to do. It took a lot of disappointments to finally check my head — to realize that writing itself is more important than any form of external success. Now I’m a dad and a husband with a day job to pay the bills. But I’m also still doing travel writing and working on my projects, because I NEVER LET GO OF THE DREAM. I just adapted the dream to my circumstances.
Keep pursuing the things you love, as if your life depends on it (because in a way it does).
All this is to say, I’m not quitting my day job any time soon. But I’m sure as hell not going to stop writing, running, or travelling, either.