I have written at least 200 words of fiction every day in 2014. I’m digging it. It’s enough words to feel like I’ve done some creative work – some sentences, a paragraph or two, a small idea – but not so many that writing becomes a horror that I spend all day dreading, avoiding. I can half-ass 200 words if I’ve had a busy day or a stressful day. I can speed-write 200 words in 20 minutes if I’m on my way out for the night or if it’s almost bedtime. Most days I write more. 200 words are just enough for something interesting start to emerge, and if I have more time, I can keep going. I usually keep going. I usually don’t notice that I’ve finished. Yesterday, I hit 10k.
Life of the Mind
A small writing goal allows me ample time to do other things with my life. Yes, this includes working full time, cooking, keeping house, and being social, but what feels more important right now is that I still have time to think. I’ve come to realize lately all of the thinking I’m not doing. I’ve always considered myself to be a thinker. An interior person. But what usually goes on in my interior is just wheel-spinning, usually of the anxious nature. Bad brain stuff. Shutting down those particular neural pathways will probably be a lifelong effort, but while I’m working on writing I’m also working on thinking, because for me, they go hand in hand. More than hand in hand. They are just the same thing. If I’m freaked out about sitting down in front of a blank Word document because I’ve got to write XXX words before XXX and they better be good, then committing to deeper thinking and focus is going to be difficult. Right now, my Sit and Think/Write Whatever schedule feels roomy. I like it.
Quiet Down In There
I’m not much of a TV watcher anymore. I usually feel pretty high and mighty about this. But you know what’s kind of the same as living in a house where the television is always running? Keeping your headphones in for 7, 8, 9 hours a day, brain on a steady diet of podcasts and audiobooks and Other People Talking. Or, even better, the lure of the never-ending scroll of your Twitter feed, the constant Facebook surveillance even though you really insist that you hate Facebook and everyone on it. Two weeks ago, I put myself on a Media Fast. Very minimal television, few podcasts, no audiobooks. No videogames, Twitter, or Facebook. Just reading and writing.
And working. And housework. And exercising. And everything else I do in my life. But I’m doing those things with a slightly quieter brain for awhile. At least until I get back from my vacation.
I am not the first person to compare writing and running, and I am certainly not the most eloquent or experienced. I am hugely amateur at both endeavors, actually.
If I was to assign a narrative to my experience as a runner, I would do so as follows: for the first 18 years of my life, I was afraid of the act, found it difficult, physically uncomfortable, and painful. It was something I was never, ever good at and never, ever expected to get better at. I dabbled with running during college and after, but never more than a mile. When I moved to Boston, running was the only form of exercise I could afford, so I tried to take it more seriously. It started out crappy but got better. Four years later, I’m not a great runner, but I am a better runner. I am not so afraid. It doesn’t always hurt. I feel like I have the tools to run more, run faster, run longer, if I make the time.
My writing narrative feels much more negative. I’ve always written. Never not written. In college, I stumbled into a creative writing degree, and four years later stumbled into writing (bad) novels. After graduation, I still wrote, but something started to break and grad school kicked it all to pieces. Now, I feel less creative, less flexible, and much, much more afraid. I worry every day that writing is not for me, but I worry even more that writing is something I’ll never be able to stop doing even though it makes me feel awful, even if I am never able to write anything I am proud of.
I wish I could reverse those stories. My writing experience in college was a little more like the first story. I was learning. Getting better. Like I had the tools to get better. I don’t feel that way anymore, but maybe it’s just me writing mind-narratives and then living up to them. Maybe if I write 200 more words, if I change the way I tell myself stories, if I make the right hard choices, then I can feel the same way about writing that I feel about running – hopeful.