Yesterday, my three hours of writing emerged as a fifteen minute spout. (Think of the sputtering of the tap when you turn the spigot on. Then quickly off). It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time to write. It was simply that I wasn’t in the mood for it. I was feeling a bit lazy. I’d had a good writing the day before (over 5 hours!), but then I woke up later than I’d wanted. I had time for two solid hours of work, but I wound up checking my email and tooling around on the internet instead. I was okay with this at the time, but as midnight approached, I fell into a panic. The fear: if I lost my momentum, would it take me another two weeks to get it back again?
One of my favorite books in high school was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Without going into too much detail, the novel is about two friends, Finny and Gene. Finny is the superstar athlete who can do anything, and Gene, his best friend. One day, while the two of them are standing on top of a very tall tree, through some internal need to knock his friend back down to his level, Gene shakes the tree and Finny goes crashing down. Stuck in a cast, Finny–fun-loving, good-looking, popular–is oblivious. In the scene I remember most, Finny is helping Gene train to be a runner (if I remember correctly, it was Finny’s goal to set as many world records as possible and after the accident, a guilty Gene volunteered to do it in his place). Anyway, one afternoon, as Gene is running, he is on the verge of exhaustion, about to stop, and then, through the wonders of the human body, his adrenaline kicks in and some other energy source takes over. He is no longer tired. He feels like he could run for days. And Finny looks on confidently. He’s known this would happen the entire time.
Since then, I’ve heard many a runner friend describe a similar running experience. One second, they feels like their lungs are going to burst or their body is going to give out, the next they’ve crossed an invisible thresh-hold into something else. I’ve never made it there in running, but I have with writing. I had this week, before yesterday’s unplanned hiatus.
A lot of writers compare writing to running. There is the Greg Martin’s Treadmill Journal–infamous in our creative writing. (I’ts a required element of his creative non-fiction workshop. If you want to see his original craft essay, follow this link). Haruki Murakami even wrote a memoir about his relationship to writing and running called What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. I’m sure the two of them could speak at a much greater length and capacity than I can, but I will say that I’ve realized something important about myself as a writer. That some days–like yesterday–I could have broken through that barrier, but I didn’t give myself a chance. The problem, I think, is that many of us are too quick to give up.
I guess the advice today is simple: Don’t. Don’t give up. And if you can help yourself along by turning off the internet or leaving your cell phone behind, then do it. One writer I know (the very phenomenal Lori Ostlund, author of The Bigness of the World) has her partner take the internet box with her when she leaves for work. I’ve also heard of someone who stuck his television into the trunk of his car and left it there until he was finished with his manuscript. Whatever you need to do, do it. Just don’t give up on yourself, your goals, or your work.