Monday, 29 July 2013

Just Do It!

I have just been interviewed for the local press about my latest book. I was asked the old chestnut, "How do you motivate yourself to write?" and I was very tempted to answer rather grumpily (well, it is hot!), "I don't know, I just do it!" But of course I have to motivate myself, in much the same way that I have to motivate myself to get off my butt and exercise every day.

In fact, motivation comes from getting twitchy if I don’t do the two things that make me tick: writing and running. I feel just as agitated if I can’t get out for a run as I do if I can’t carve out time to sit with a pencil and notebook or my laptop.

To quote from Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor.”

Writing and running have become intertwined in my life. Until I had read Murakami’s book, I did not know that anyone else felt the same way. I certainly do not put myself in the same category as Murakami, either as a writer or a runner – he now runs ultra-marathons as well as being a world-renowned, best-selling author – however, both activities are part of my daily routine in the same way they are with his; they are part of what keeps me sane and fit and healthy in mind, body and soul. I feel I cannot do one without the other, and I am certainly not in my right mind or my right body if I do not find the time to do either.

In his memoir, Murakami tells of how, before becoming a full-time novelist, he had an active lifestyle, running a jazz club in Tokyo. As soon as he gave that up to concentrate on writing, he realized that he was going to have to find a way of keeping fit, as a writer’s life is, of course, mainly sedentary.

This, too, was my motivation. I had worked in London as an editor and had been used to walking to work, running up and down stairs, going to the gym with friends and so on. I then had two small children after whom I ran as well, but once they were at school all day and I finally found the time to write, I realized that I was no longer moving around so much. And so I took up running.

At first then, that is all it was: a way to keep fit. And, as Murakami says, “Running has a lot of advantages. First of all, you don’t need anybody else to do it, and no need for special equipment.” A lot like writing, then!

Gradually it became apparent how much the two things had become wrapped up together: I would drop the kids off at school, go for a run and, during the run, start to churn over thoughts on writing. Knotty plot problems would often unravel during a run, conversations between characters would unfurl, ideas for settings or descriptions of the weather would come to me as I pounded the pavements in rain, wind, sleet or sun. If I did not get out for a run, I missed it: simply coming home from the school drop-off to sit at my desk felt wrong and had me pacing the house instead of concentrating.

When I first started running I could not run for more than a maximum of twenty minutes without being in pain. I had to make myself go out every day and try to go just that little bit further. I run along a towpath by a canal, so I would use trees or benches or narrowboats as markers to see if I could push myself to go further.

And so it has been with my writing: when I first started writing, I could not write for long periods of time either, and I could not write long pieces. I had to push myself just that little bit further over time.

Murakami has it right, I think, when he says, “What’s crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you’ve set for yourself […] writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation.”

He also says that he likes to run, “the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly.”

This is the pace I have tried to set myself too, both in running and writing.

I finally wrote my first long piece of fiction for children after a year of motivating myself to write every day. And I ran my first marathon two years after pushing myself to run further and faster by following a daily training plan.

I am constantly aiming to improve my writing and push myself to explore new ways of writing. Currently I am trying out writing for an older age group. I am also trying to improve my running and to keep it up, no matter what excuses present themselves! At the moment it is so hot that I have to find the right time of day to go out. And writing is always tricky in the summer as I have the children at home, wanting to be ferried to and fro.

But if I go the whole summer without writing or running, my head and body will both suffer. And so, each day, I suppose I do tell myself (to quote Nike, this time!) “Just do it!”, and I always feel better when I do.


Joan Lennon said...

Inspired and impressed!

Stroppy Author said...

It is difficult to get enough exercise when your job is sitting at home writing. Well done for taking it to the extreme and running marathons - I'm well impressed. I try to build in activity - walking to the supermarket, cycling to the library - but it's not good enough really. I should dust off my running shoes. But I do get bored, running.

Penny Dolan said...

Admiring your determination, Anna, and doing your run just after you've dropped the kids off at school sounds a perfect kind of schedule for moving into writing on your return home.

(I'm not a runner but I read the Murukami book too, out of interest. However, I gradually felt that his intense devotion to marathons as well as to his writing life was asking an extraordinary amount from his wife.)

Stephen Davies said...

Thank you for these thoughts, Anna. I love Murakami's book, particularly what he says about 'gushers and bleeders' (though he doesn't use those terms). Some writers are like natural springs. The sentences just well up naturally. Most are not. Most of us have to work hard at 'opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein'. What I found interesting in 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' is that the technical and physical capacities he developed through his running were the same ones he needed for the near-physical exertion of completing a novel or ten. Very inspiring stuff.

A Wilson said...

Thank you all for your comments! I have been away and for some reason could not post a reply from a different device... I agree with you, Penny, about what Murakami asks of his wife, and was struck by how shadowy a figure she was in the book: providing him with snacks and fresh socks seemed her main role! However, his observations on writing are so on the nail for me. And I am a "slow bleeder" with only very occasional bouts of "gushing", by the way!