I have always been a runner, but I haven’t always run. When I was a child, I had the freedom to run around fields and streets all day every day without worrying about where I was going or when I’d be back. When I was a young person, I ran for my school and I ran for a club; when I was sixteen, I ran an awful long way and I ran it fucking fast. After that, I pretty much stopped running for twenty-seven years. But now I am running again – pounding out a few miles, a couple of times a week. I have always been a runner but now I am a runner who runs.
You may always have been a writer, but perhaps you haven’t been writing. Maybe you wrote, as a child, because children have that freedom, to write straight from the heart without analysing, debating. Perhaps you lost the habit soon afterwards; maybe you have tried to find it again a few times. Or perhaps you have been writing, but failing to find your stride. The truth is, whether you haven’t written anything for twenty-seven years, or whether you have been writing and not liking what you have written, you are still a writer. Today you can start to write again. You will become a writer who writes.
The fact that I didn’t run for so long is irrelevant. I was still a runner in my heart, in my mind, in my body. But now I’m running again, lord I love it. I feel more myself when I am running and, when I’m done, what I feel is a happy exhaustion. A happy exhaustion following a logical coming together of heart, mind and body.
It doesn’t matter whether you have been writing for years or not; if you’re a writer, write now. You will feel more yourself – more complete. Bring together all of your life experiences, your intellectual journeys, your love stories into this, your writing. Make it all make sense to you, on the page. Make your writing the logical conclusion to everything that has gone before: this is what it all adds up to, now.
Running isn’t something I do because someone else suggested it; because someone might see me; because I’m competing with anyone. I loathe the idea of running against anyone else, or with anyone else, even though I am as competitive a person as you could find. My running has nothing to do with anyone but me, and that feels good. Pushing myself as hard as I can – testing myself – that’s what counts. I know what speed I’m aiming at. (‘Fucking fast.’) I’ll run where I like.
Writing shouldn’t be something you do because someone else suggested it, or might notice, or because someone else is writing and you think you’d do it better. Push yourself to write as well as you can – test yourself – be your own critic. Your own satisfaction is what matters here. Don’t be too impatient to share your work with others. Be your own best reader; please yourself. Know what you’re aiming for. Write what you like.
Running regularly builds stamina, muscle, lung capacity: the more I run, the better I run. I can breathe like a diver now: when I get into my stride, I can hold my breath in my lungs – take the oxygen down low and keep it there. I try new routes (dirt track, towpath, road, grass, middle of the street, long straight, field); new soundtracks; times of day; distances; speeds; shoes. I play with it, experiment, enjoy it.
Write regularly: build stamina, imaginative capacity. The more you write, the better you will write. Try writing short stories, scenes, snatches of dialogue; play with modes, settings, styles, voices. Try writing for different fixed periods of time; at different times of day; try writing a certain numbers of words a day; try plotting; try writing without thinking. Play with it, experiment, enjoy it.
I like to run alone. That time, pounding along, is a time for Sorting Through, for kindling dreams, for building ideas, for unearthing memories, for weighing regrets; for deciding life is too short for regrets. I run in the world and I love the world and the world loves me. Look what I saw when I ran a couple of weeks ago: the sea, the wildflowers, the empty clifftop path.
Writing is a solitary game – set your own goals. Writing for yourself and yourself alone, is an opportunity to Sort Through, to kindle dreams, to build ideas, to unearth memories, to weigh regrets: no, sod regrets. Do not regret anything because you’re writing your own world, the world you love and the world that loves you. What’s to regret? Be a writer and be who you want; know what you know; say what you like. The road is yours if you can find it.
Now I have accepted that I am a runner – that running is essential to me – I have made a habit of it, carved a space for it in my life. If you know that you are a writer – that writing is part of who you are – then make a habit of it, carve a space for it in your life. Make no room for regret.
Tie your shoes; turn a new page. Let’s go. Who knows where we will end up.
(Yes, I put the me into metaphor didn’t I?)