When I was eight, I started running street races, from 5K to 5 miles. I hated running when I first started. It was my father's idea, and a way to get me out of my shell. I felt it obligatory and ridiculous, but I also started getting recognition—the trophies rolled in for the 10 & under category. People were easily impressed by me because I was super small and super goofy looking with my bright red hair, odd fashion sense, and hexagon glasses (the picture below depicts a good fashion day for me), and I was finishing these races. I'm not sure the running itself brought me out of my shell, but it did teach me a lot about the difference between doing a thing because you love it and doing it because it's what you're supposed to and it brings you recognition. It also, oddly, taught me a lot about the value of kicking back.
I bring this up because I have been thinking a lot about writing and what motivates people (both who identify themselves as writers and those who don't) to do it. I came to writing in the opposite way that I came to run competitively. I just started writing because I loved it—no one asked me to, there was no secondary goal—and I could care less if anyone else read what I wrote because the process was in of itself a reward. It seemed to offer the same sort of healthy escapism that reading did when I wrote fiction and something more transcendent when I tackled nonfiction. It became a way to let it out, whatever it was from day to day.
For some (some would argue the lucky ones, but I’d say the durable and hardworking ones), writing begins to be recognized. It wins the writer awards and becomes a sort of performance sport as solicitations come in and the writer's end goal suddenly becomes publication. I recently began thinking again about trying to find an agent and really holding back any work from being published online for a while, and I'm thinking this because I am rather tired of the submission process. I want to write for the writing's sake for a while. At least for a few months, to see how it goes, and I know I need to relax in order to do so.
Running those races was always nerve shaking to me, and though I would feel good after the race most of the time, I also became overly obsessed with collecting trophies and beating my last time. As I got older, the trophies became harder to earn. I began straining my body by pushing myself in training and I found myself worrying for nights leading up to each race. I studied techniques and cross-trained. I did it all, and still, I seemed to be losing ground. Each race was more frightening and more disappointing than the last. I was getting a little faster, but the world around me was getting much faster.
The day finally came, one race day morning, when I decided I didn't give a damn. I woke up and made the conscious decision to take it easy. My father and I arrived at the Tomato Town Trot, a five mile race that was becoming an annual tradition, and I felt no nerves because I had decided that this race didn’t count. I didn't worry about placing in the race, and I didn't think about my time. I just ran. I talked to other runners, and I enjoyed the scenery.
I had run many races by that time, and I had never enjoyed any part except crossing the finish line. Well, that and the ceremony at the end. Running was work. It was serious business. I never accepted water from the sidelines because I knew drinking water would take precious seconds off my time. I was focused and caught up in the competition. But this race, for the first time, I took the water. Hell, during the Tomato Town Trot, I even walked for a moment to drink my water. It was like I wasn't even trying. I finished that race in well under 40 minutes. This had been my goal for over a year, I was ten, and I'd finally done it. This was the race in which I began to enjoy running.
In a way, I think it's important to find this point in a writing career, where it's not about stockpiling publications, but writing for writing's sake. At least it's important for me. Perhaps it’s a good way to look at life in general. I welcome publication, and will continue to share my work with those interested as I'd hope writers whose work I enjoy and admire will, but my goal when writing is only to write. And I think in making this decision consciously, a writer can somehow manage to both kick back and move forward.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!
Oh, and since I was at the Spurs game last night: Go Spurs Go!!!
I wish you all a beautiful week.