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.