I’ve taken up running in recent years, and it’s done me quite a lot of good. Besides feeling better physically, I have benefitted from knowing that I, an old dog, am still capable of learning new tricks. I’m not a natural runner; cultivating the discipline to do it has taught me lessons that have applied elsewhere in life, including my writing life. Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned from running: when I find myself miles from home and exhausted already, I’ve learned not to ask, “Can I run all the way home?” The truth is, I usually don’t know whether I can run all the way home. I have learned instead to ask, “Can I run to the next light pole?” The answer to that question is almost always “Yes.” And once I’ve made it to the light pole, I start thinking about the next light pole.
Of the few books I’ve read about how to write, my favorite by far is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. That book has done much to shape my day-to-day approach to writing. Lamott compares writing a book to driving at night. Your headlights don’t illuminate any farther than the next turning. But you keep going anyway, knowing that by the time you make that turn, your headlights will light the way to the next turn. And eventually you get where you set out to go.
Writing a book is a daunting task. Writing, like night-driving or distance running, requires a certain amount of faith. You set out for a destination without knowing exactly how you’re going to get there. For me, at least, it helps to remember that I don’t write books. I write sentences. A book is what you have after the fact. On any given day, I’m only writing pages. I’m only running to the next light pole.
I think…that if someone asked me for advice on writing, this is basically what I would tell them. "Just start! Write a little bit ever day and see what happens!" And yet it’s only recently that it dawned on me that I, too, could accomplish writing goals that way. Duh. I have all these ideas, but I think I’ve always been held back by a sense that I had to sit down and craft the complete work in one sitting. Yeah, duh. Of course it doesn’t work like that. Thanks for this new opportunity to join with friends in just pursuing that next light pole goal.
Kimberly Barlow Cook
Well, this succinctly describes my greatest writing frustration–trying to imagine the end of my story before beginning or reaching the middle. I have read about writers like J.K. Rowling who plan, before beginning, to an extreme level of detail, such as their character’s names, what books they read, and who they will marry at the end. I have tried to do this, but just can’t seem to imagine my ending at the beginning. I do very well running to the next light pole, but have always felt guilty about writing that way. Perhaps having a general idea of where you want to end up is enough. After all, that is the way real life happens….