Writing is a marathon

When I was in grade school, I started sprinting. I wasn’t superfast. In fact, I was just sort of fast. And I liked the longer sprints, the 220 mostly (now called the 200 meter), but not the longer ones like the 440 (400 meter). And I wasn’t quick enough at the start for sprints like the 50 and 100 yard dash.

But when I walked, I liked to go slow, stop and look at things. Family walks used to be interesting. Mom liked to walk fast, I tried to keep up. My sister would out-and-out stop to make us stop so we’d both wait for her. Now, of course, they’re both fast-walking fiends.

I liked going fast on my bike, though.

In junior high, I actually lettered in track and volleyball. Mostly the 220/200 meter and the relay – nothing too long or too short, like I said. And it was again, mostly stick-to-itiveness that got me those letters. I wasn’t the fastest, but I didn’t give up.

Sports letter

I also wrote poetry a lot, not stories. I thought about writing stories, but I was all about the poem. And sometimes plays. I really liked the idea of writing plays at the time. In grade school, I used to check them out and bring home ones I thought I could mess about with at home, to direct my sister and our friends in. Or really just me and my sister. Maybe if I’d gotten involved in drama more in junior high and high school I would have tried writing plays.

Anyway, that’s all to say that all these things I did were the shorter versions of things I was into. They were the things I could do in brief amounts of time. They were things that I knew I could finish.

In high school, we moved from the east part of the state to a larger town, a college town, on the west part of the state. Completely different type of town. My interests traveled with me, of course, but the friends who I’d done track and volleyball and drama with who would have pulled me along with them were back in Wenatchee. I was starting over in Bellingham. New school. New system. New friends. The only thing I really held onto was orchestra (but without the private lessons). I have Mr. Schlicting to thank for that. He grabbed me before I could shy away and got me into orchestra and chamber.

But as a runner, I didn’t fit anywhere anymore. And though my shotput had been okay for a junior high kid, it was lousy for high school. Somehow, I got talked into joining the cross country running team. I don’t know how. Maybe it was the Chariots of Fire movie. I don’t know. Long distance running had never been something I was into. But somehow I made it. It was longer and slower (for me, though for others it was faster). I frequently came in last or tied for last.

Writing happened, outside of homework, in fits and starts. I explored being an architect for a while instead of a writer. It seemed like there would be more promise for employment, and more exotic than mundane writing. I read books, thought about things, wanted to make the world a better place, had dreams. Meandered.

Eventually, though I quit running for track in high school, I did end up running for myself in college and later. And that’s also when I started working on longer forms of writing. My poems got longer, as if expanding my lungs, my breath, my stamina, also seemed to expand my ability to expand on my ideas. I wrote longer poems and short stories, toyed with ideas for novels. They were halting and poorly written, but coming out nonetheless.

It wasn’t until I read “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg that I connected that writing was something that happened between the brain and the body; it was just as much physical as mental. Goldberg’s theory was that writers had good figures because they (we) expend a lot of energy writing. It takes stamina. It also takes stubbornness and focus, like running long distance does.

Now, I know a lot of out of shape writers, because if you spend all day in front of your computer and get out of the habit of moving around, your body will deteriorate. But I also know what she was saying. I get it. It takes strength – physical, mental, and spiritual – to write, to keep at it and not give up.

Last year, my cat died, my dad died, hell, my washing machine died. My best friend’s dad died, and his dog died. The paper I work for was sold and we not only changed how we do things and got a new boss, but we also moved down the street. I also moved out of my kitchen while it was being redone, and back into it, and out of the rest of my studio apartment while it was being repainted, and then back into it. Family visited in between.

2015 was exhausting.

Writing got dropped like a 10-pound sack of potatoes.

I’d been working on a book, well a novella and two books. And before everything hit the fan, I thought that one of them was close to completion. But I would soon learn that even with all the practice I had with poems, short stories and novellas, when it came to novels, it wasn’t going to be a sprint. It was going to be a cross country journey requiring stamina and focus. And I was getting there, bit by bit. I might come in last, but I figured I would get there eventually.

And then last year happened.

It’s been over a year now, but I am finally getting back into writing. But like all exercise regimens, I’ve lost the “conditioning” I once had to sit down and stick to a piece of writing. I’m barely working on poetry, only nipping around the edges of stories. I have to get back my stamina. Gotta practice the short sprints before I get back into the long distances.

A couple of weeks ago, I opened up the file for the novel I thought was close to being finished and realized just how much farther I have to go on it. I have to get in my “distance training” again before even looking at it. So much more to do, more exercises getting the creative writing chops back. More poetry and short stories so I feel comfortable in my writing skin again before I get back into the marathon training that is novel writing. It will take some time before I finish this book, or any other for that matter. I need to be comfortable with that. This isn’t a short sprint. I’m in it for the long haul.


Workshopping as a Free Radical — And Throwback Thursday

Trying to come up with a clever title — like that one? Well, it’s a title. It’s not like I’m at work and have to fit it in a two-line one-column head at 16 or 18 pt. And here I’m Queen of my Blogetary Castle, so it can be whatever I want. So there.

So, yesterday was one of the $5 workshops at the writers country club down the street. I thought long and hard about going. I wanted to do something writing associated, but I knew if I went I’d end up feeling frustrated and ridiculous at the end of the evening again. I realized you can look up who else is attending through the Meet Up app, and saw that once again I’d be twice as old as everyone else. I’d probably end up opening my mouth and sounding like a know-it-all, but you can’t help it when you happen to have that many more years experience.
So am I supposed to keep my mouth shut? Isn’t this supposed to be the 21st century? If I were in my 20s and keeping my mouth shut someone would be railing and ranting against how white male culture was suppressing my expression. But now, the reason I would keep my mouth shut is to keep the peace and allow these younger women to express themselves freely without feeling shot down by the “knowitall” in the corner. *sigh*

Easier not to go at all. Hell, in a few years I can probably find a writers group in a senior center.

Looked up events that are supposed to be happening at the bookstore down the street as a friend suggested. The one last night was a reading/discussion with an author of a political book (not my cup of tea)  and the only event I’m even remotely interested in is a couple weeks from now and is $250. So, that’s out.

But you know, one of those books I won as a door prize when I went to the poetry shindig/hootenanny at the writers country club, was a book of writing exercises. I got it for free and here it was sitting on my kitchen table waiting for me to use it. It’s called Clear Out The Static In Your Attic. It feels like a clumsy title to me. I would have said, “Clear the Static Outta Your Attic” — but maybe there was already another book by that title or something. Anyway. Thought it was time to be creative and have my own little workshop as a free radical not attached to anything. I used to do that a LOT when I lived in Bellingham — get the Writers Digest out, or some other book, and set myself writing exercises to work on. If it worked then, it can work now. And it’s FREE.

I did a couple of exercises out of the book last night. The first one I had tried a few nights before, writing a few six word stories (you know that old story about how Hemingway was asked to write a story with six words?) and then linking them together in one story or poem. So, I worked on that again for a while. I think I might get a poem from that, and maybe something else as well from other phrases I worked up.

The second exercise is to take an epitaph quoted by a favorite author, or even something a favorite author wrote and write based on that. And I couldn’t decide what to do. I got up and wandered around my apartment looking at books.

And here’s where the Throwback Thursday ( #tbt !) comes in: I pulled “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg off my shelf to page through. She’s coming to the West Hollywood Library at the end of the month so she’s been on my mind a lot lately (so excited!). I thought I had remembered her saying “Be kind, be kind, be kind” somewhere in that book, but I couldn’t find it. However, she does repeatedly say throughout her work to be kind, so maybe that’s where I got it. It’s what sticks in my head.

Going through that book brought back so many memories. I thought I had bought it in college, but it was actually a couple years later. I remember reading it on weekend road trips from Bham to Seattle. All sorts of bits were underlined. The cover is almost falling off. And then something I read there sent me to another old favorite book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Going through that reminded me of San Francisco all over again. I used to practice breathing while I was hanging on tight to a bus or BART rail on my way too and from work in Oakland.

Eventually I settled on no quotes from either book, but instead remembered something my nurse practitioner had told me last time I’d been in. I barked a laugh, wrote it down and got a pretty good flash story from it, I think. We’ll see. A good scene, anyway.

The next exercise in the book used an app on the computer and I stare at the screen a lot these days with work at the paper and at home. As I wanted this to be a computer-free evening, I skipped that exercise and came up with my own, which turned out really well for me. So, I’m sharing it here.

Take a deck of cards. It can be any deck. I used a deck of tarot cards because they have good pictures, usually, and they were close at hand. But you could use SkipBo cards or Uno cards or Creative Prosperity Cards would be good, too. (Might even be better.) Shuffle and cut the deck. Draw seven cards. Write a story based on the pictures on the cards.

Write a story or scene or poem based on random cards pulled from a deck.

Write a story or scene or poem based on random cards pulled from a deck.

I got a good three or four handwritten pages out of that one. Could be a good short story in the making.

By then the sun was setting and I was running out of natural light and I figured my free radical workshop could come to a close for the evening.

So, on the whole, it was a really productive writing workshop last night. In fact, it was so good, I think I’ll go back again next week! 😀