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American Past Time
A novel by Len Joy

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Writers and Runners

I tried to come up with a clever title for a post that compared the writing profession with the triathlon world. “Runners” isn’t really the right word, but it has more alliterative merit than “multi-sport endurance athletes” or “triathletes.”

The two activities complement each other. I like to workout in the early early morning. It’s quiet and there are few distractions. On a long bike ride or swim or run, I can compose entire stories in my head, and they are all really good. Engaging, humorous, tension-filled.

Sometimes some of the brilliance is lost when I return to my desk and have to actually write them down. I’m still working on that part.

One of the things I’ve learned about writing and sports is that you can actually get better if you work at it. And for the marginally-gifted like myself, getting help from professionals (that sounded better than getting professional help) can make a big difference.

I’ve been training with Craig Strong (he’s works for the Evanston Y and is affiliated with Experience Triathlon) the last couple of years. There are so many things to learn and until you work with someone who knows the business you don’t know what you don’t know. (I think Donald Rumsfeld said something like that.)

The same goes for writing. I sort of thought I could write when I started taking courses at The University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio back in 2003. Over the last few years I’ve attended summer writer workshops at Iowa, Tin House and Squaw Valley. Next week I’m returning to Squaw Valley for a week. I leave those workshops with more knowledge – they help me to become a better writer – and more awareness – they make me realize how much I don’t know or can’t do well. Yet.

For me the key difference between Writing and competition is that writing is purely subjective, and so at times it is easy to lose perspective, especially after seventy agents pass on your novel or you get twenty rejection notices in a week (not that either of those things could ever really happen), while competing can be purely objective, quantifiable, measurable: I finished the race in two hours, fifty-two minutes, forty-four and five tenths seconds. I’m glad my novel can’t be reduced to a number, but some days it’s nice to do something where nobody’s opinion really matters.

That is, until the race pictures come out and my daughters ask me why I looked so mean.

Workout: Open Water Swim – Craig had his weekly open water swim at Gillson Beach. The waves were at least twenty feet high. Maybe higher. Anyway it was rough. He told me I should sight on every two strokes (I tend to pull to the left and I think he was afraid I would end up in Michigan) but I didn’t see the point. Every time I looked up there was a huge wall of water between me and where I was pretty sure the buoy was, so I kept my head down as much as possible.

My plan for the next race is for the water to be calm. We stayed out for about 45 minutes.

Weight: 189 (so far this recording of the weight every day isn't working. Maybe I need to actually eat less.)


Len said...

Too long - I think these need to be 200 to 300 words tops. And too goddamn many parenthetical thoughts. I'll get better I'm sure.

Ania Vesenny said...

I loved this, Len. Quit commenting on your own posts.

UtahK said...

Len, this is a good read. Yes, there's lots of time for meditation, writing, problem solving when you're out there running the miles. But what do you think about when you swim???? I usually think of survival.