Monday, April 30, 2012

Of Writing and Running

I'm  fast finding out that writing a novel is akin to running a marathon - or in my case, running long distances.

The idea may seem like a good thing at the time, but really, the whole experience is a lot of hardship, harsh slog, isolation, revising, long hours and many, many tears.

Stupidly, I'm preparing for a half marathon at the moment - or more accurately, a 23 kilometre slog along the Great Ocean Road. I'm walking and running and generally trying to do 1-2 hours of training a day. I'm scaling hills, getting in extra runs and trying to make sure that when I do go down to Apollo Bay back in three weeks time, I'll be okay as I make my way along the undulating hills that are more than likely going to supply an evil head wind and a good slice of hail. Fun.

Writing a novel is more difficult than running long distances. Writing a novel makes running a marathon feel like a walk in the park with a zimmer frame.

See, the great thing about distance running is that the pain goes away when you stop. If you practice regularly, you get better, things get easier, and you know that what ever you're training for will be conquered.

Writing a novel is not like this. It's frustrating. It's infuriating. It's one of the most difficult things I've ever turned my hand to. It's having the ability to send me loopier than three pints of pear cider and turn me to mush.

See, the thing about writing a novel, unlike running long distances, is that it's fraught with failure. If you don't want to run, you don't have to. You only fail yourself and you can do it another day. Writing isn't like this. The more you put down your novel, the less you have to show for it (yeah, that is the same for running - but the proof of the failure is more tangible.) Then there are the countless revisions, tweaks, updates, changes - and this is all in the first 5000 words...

Running is a wonderful, simple, fluid motion - one foot in front of the other and repeat, ad nauseam.

Writing isn't like this.

Writing is not fluid. It's strained, angst-ridden and harsh. It is a crippling bastard of a master.

Running, once you have the mechanics, is generally pretty easy - okay, you might want to dash up a few hills, or learn how to tempo run or increase your speed or distance.

Writing is something you learn as a child - and I think I will be honing my abilities until the day I die. It's a hard, hard, hard thing to do.

Okay, it's a hard, hard thing to do when you're me - something of a perfectionist, and something of a snob when it comes to creative writing. I'm my own worst critic.

I have memories of sitting in a car with David Malouf, one of Australia's most critically acclaimed authors. I was driving authors for the Writer's Festival. We got stuck in traffic. We started to talk writing  - he was curious that I'd had a couple of short stories published in literary magazines.
"Do you agonise over commas?" he asked me.
"Yes. Always." (Which I do when I'm not writing this blog. Here I pay attention to punctuation - when I'm in literary mode I agonise over those 14 marks of torture.)
"You will be fine," he told me.

Also, being a runner, and an IT Consultant - among other things - I'm time poor - I don't have the luxury of having a lot of spare time to write my novel. It's a half hour here, lunchtime there, evening in front of the computer other times. I make notes on my iPhone and in my handbag note book. I scribble in meetings on scraps of paper if a turn of phrase comes to my mind. I try an organise my thoughts so that when I get a chance, what I write is okay.

Then again, it's probably a fools errand, a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This novel lark is really one of the hardest, most terrible, but ultimately, most enriching thing I have ever taken on.

I just hope that it's not the drivel I suspect it is.


On a completely different topic, I found out something tonight.

People generally think the worst.

My facebook status was set at 5.30 pm this evening to read the following.

"Waiting for the Federal Police to arrive."

Within minutes, comments of "What's going on?", "What have you done now?" and "You mean they've finally caught up with you?" made their appearance. I really liked the comment "So what is that a euphemism for?"

Needless to say, I was waiting for a member of the Australian Federal Police.

My mate Kip, an old university friend, is in Melbourne on secondment, trying to bring some baddies to justice (his words, not mine) He called and asked if I'd like to grab a coffee during the week. Always happy to catch up with visiting old mates.

Being 5.30 pm and knowing that most decent coffee joints were closed, we took on Plan B and headed to the Irish Times for a pint.

We had a giggle over the fact that my phone was going bonkers with status comments.

"Ah, let 'em sweat." I said.
Kip commented,"They seem to think you get into trouble."
"Yeah, I'm always in trouble. But not trouble that will land you in jail."

We had a very pleasant evening catching up on life, the universe and everything. Being a stranger to Melbourne, I gave him some tips on where to go for dinner - appears one of his team will only eat bland food - but he now knows where to get a decent Beef Rendang, even better coffee and where to get knick knacks to take back for his kids.

I was home by 7.30.

Still made for a great status update.



The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

Keep going. I have tried and failed a few times now - it is just too time consuming and very difficult.

Best of luck.




Jackie K said...

Yes, keep going! You can do it.

shellygold said...

Keep on going with the novel, the authors I know and one's I've spoken to say its just a matter of keeping going.....and I loved the status and how you left us all hanging, its food to keep people guessing. LOL

shellygold said...

the last comment meant to say 'good'to keep people guessing! DOH

The Elephant's Child said...

Brave on the running front, brave on the writing front. You epitomise courage. And I always thoroughly enjoy your writing.
Love the awaiting the Feds update. Loud smiles here.

Kath said...

Hear hear re the novel writing pain versus the steady slog of running!

Believe it or not, I'm also 'time poor' and have two started novels (one at 27,000 words and the other at 10,000) to my credit. On the positive side, I haven't abandoned either of them; they're just resting because moving overseas and life got in the way. I spend most of my free time running errands and working as a freelance writer for a couple of agencies. For a pittance, of course.

What I'd dearly like to do - and I"m sure you would too, if such things as all-expenses-paid-for-a-month hideaways to the Golden Door health retreat suddenly landed in our laps. Imagine that - a month do do nothing but write.