This is not a humble brag, or any other kind of brag for that matter, (and if you ever saw me running, you’d know that is the truth), but I’m in training for a half-marathon. I’m the sort of runner whose main aim is to make it to the start line, never mind the finish. Personal bests, credible times and podiums (ha ha), be damned.
Anyway, I’m in the endurance phase of my training programme. These are the weeks when you turn up, day after day, and put in the miles. Good days, bad days, fast or slow, sun or rain, flowing or stuttering. (Yes, it is a writing metaphor.) Often, I feel like I’m getting slower, less fit, achier. Too old, my body protests. But I keep on. Because I’ve been here before. In a few weeks’ time, some magic will happen, and I will run a longer distance than I ever felt was possible. (Yes, that is also a writing metaphor.)
Writing fills my mind while I run. I ponder specifics, like what one character will say to another, and how the hell I’m going to fill that quarry-sized plot hole. (Water? A lot of gravel?) I wonder if I’m any good, and will I ever be published, and will it matter either way, and should I just give up?
I’m not good at running. I’m not fast. I’m definitely not graceful. It doesn’t necessarily make me happier. But I have a need to do it. And writing is the same. Something I need to do, deep down in the blood and bones and heart of me.
But still, some days I think of stopping. Sometimes, it’s too hard. In fact, I did give up once, for over a decade actually. It did me no good at all.
Today it occurred that the endurance phase of my writing life is now nudging twelve years. But then I realised that it’s not a phase at all, that this is writing. How it’s going to be. Whether you are published or not, if you have to write, the endurance phase lasts forever.
This, strangely, did not lead to despair. It made me relax. I accepted it. Being published, self-published, unpublished – all of that is very separate to what it means to be a writer.
These thoughts may have been set in motion by a writing group I went to for the first time this week. I walked into a pub and sat with a group of people, none of whom I’d met before. Some were published or self-published, some had no interest in publication, all had writing projects on the go – travel journals, graphic novels, therapeutic writing, screen plays, autobiographies, novels. We spent time talking about our writing. We wrote for twenty minutes. We read out what we’d written – always a bit terrifying. We gave feedback to each other.
At the end, one of the writers said, ‘We’ve all done something special, something a bit weird, this evening. We’ve come here to sit and write.’
I left feeling both special and weird (which is, frankly, the best way to feel about yourself), and knowing that there are other people who feel like that too. In fact, some of the best people in the world are like that (they know who they are), and they have kept me going when I thought I might give up. People who are tied to writing too, who love it, and will keep on doing it for love alone.
So, if you are one of us, and you hit a bump/hill/mountain in your writing road, stand back a moment, and remember why you do it, remember why you write.
And then take out your notebook and your pen and …