writing rengeek magpie mind

December 2014

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criminal minds reid runs like a girl

give me things that don't last long


On Endurance:

She got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

She got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

--Tom Waits


Last night I wrote 4000 words. Today, I ran twelve miles.

These two activities are not really dissimilar. They require good prep, training, proper rest and nutrition, and they're the sort of feats that become destructive if repeated on a daily basis, unless you are some kind of Eddie Izzard freak of nature. (Seriously. Eddie Izzard. Fucking amazing.

It wasn't easy, and actually on the run, I pushed myself a bit too far. I've run 11.4 miles before (I'm training for a half marathon in March) but apparently there is some kind of two-hours-of-intense-exercise time limit on my body) with no ill effects other than muscle soreness, but despite the fact that I really felt like I was ready for this, the last half mile was a series of negotiations with myself along the lines of "We're doing this with or without you, meat, so you may as well get on board and help push." And I suffered a fair amount of nausea and GI distress after I got home, which is just about gone four hours later.

My requisite post-run snack was a challenge to get down, I will tell you that. And I am going to be seriously under for calories today.

Oh, well. Except for yoga, tomorrow is a rest day.

But there was a whole long part where I was running with a tailwind beside a leaden lake, half-thawed and tossing in that stiff breeze, and I felt like I could run forever. The same stride I hit yesterday in my writing, where I was just cruising along, crushing page count. In a few minutes, I'm going to have to get to work on today's writing obligation. It won't be an endurance event like yesterday's outing, just an easy eight pages or so.

But that's another thing. When I was running two miles regularly, running two miles seemed really hard. Now it's a pleasant quick run, over before I'm really warmed up. Even four miles is perfectly comfortable now.

Writing eight pages doesn't seem bad when you wrote twenty the day before.

Your body and mind adapt to what you expect of them, and it helps to get better performance out of them overall when occasionally you push them past the point of comfort. You get faster by running faster, even beyond what's comfortable. You get more efficient and creative as an artist by pushing your boundaries, by expecting more of yourself. Not necessarily more pages, though I think sometimes it's very satisfying to blow it out and see just what you can accomplish, but more ideas, more craft, more technique, more characterization, more beautiful language.

Any personal trainer will tell you that if you repeat the same workout over and over again, your body adapts to it and you stop improving. You stop benefiting. To continue to gain you have to push yourself to do things that are a little uncomfortable. A little too hard.

But you also have to know your limits. Because if you push yourself to the point of exhaustion every day, all you get is diminishing returns. Your body and mind get weaker, worn down--not stronger, fiercer, sharper, more capable.

It would be fucking stupid, in other words, for me to go out again tomorrow and try to run another twelve miles. I'd hurt myself. Perhaps seriously.

I mean, my goal is that by March, this exercise (which today I found exhausting) will be--if not trivial--well within my abilities. It had better be, because I have to run thirteen miles, not just twelve.

But next week, I only have to run nine and a half on my long run. Which is still strenuous, but will seem pretty luxurious by comparison to today.

Writing a novel is a lot like training for a marathon. It demands endurance and consistency, but also--brains need a balance of activity and rest. Creativity needs time to work. Of course, I do this for a living, which means creativity also has to work to a schedule or I go hungry, and I also inconvenience a lot of people. But the mind, like the body, needs nourishment and downtime.

I could not have done what I did today without a serious breakfast, nutrition and hydration along the way (dried apricots and Mott's fruit snacks are my poison of choice), and I could not do it again later if I didn't get protein and carbs in my head afterwards. Likewise, I can't create if I don't consume--art, the world, information in all its forms.

People sometimes ask why on earth I would run--why I would tolerate the discomfort and inconvenience. It's because, for me, having a fit body that can meet my demands and sometimes even exceed my expectations is a greater pleasure than sitting on the sofa eating ice cream. Which is not to say that I don't sit on the sofa eating ice cream, because you bet your ass I do. And drinking bourbon, too, on occasion. I don't love running--but I love how easy it makes it to do other things that I do love.

It's a question of opportunity cost. Writing books is hard and sometimes uncomfortable too, but I do that maybe sixty hours a week and I only run about four or five. The rewards of both are evident--a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of well-being. And at the end, I have something to show for it, which is pretty awesome too.

Comments

This is inspiring and encouraging to read and comes at just the right time for me. I need to learn this too. Thanks, Bear.