I was running this morning. I was about 25 minutes in and just a few from stopping when I saw another woman running. She nodded as she passed, according to some kind of universal, unspoken runners’ etiquette. I nodded back. And here is the thought that flashed through my mind, as quick as my breath: “She is a real runner.”
I had the thought that she was a real runner WHILE I WAS RUNNING.
The comparison was so instantaneous as to be unconscious, until that moment when a thought bubbled up and surprised me. My next thought was even less eloquent: WTF, Jena?
Was it because she was running faster? Wearing more official-looking running clothes? In that split second, I totally dissed myself based on assumptions and judgments — the former about her and the latter of myself. Hell, for all I know, she thought the same thing about me! See how silly it all gets?
I didn’t think much more of it until just now, when it suddenly occurred to me that this is exactly what many people do with regards to writing (and no doubt a lot of other things). Oh, SHE is a “real writer.” You know, the one with the published pieces, or the book, the prizes, the room of her own, the agent — whatever. Really the reason is not the point. The point is that this kind of crazy shit is what keeps us from having to deal with our own capacity to create. Comparing, in a sense, is lazy.
Lace up sneakers and step outside your door and run to the corner. Do it again tomorrow. Maybe even the next day. Take a day off, or three. Try a different route. Hit a trail. Meet a friend. Get new sneakers. What you’re wearing doesn’t matter. Unless you’re in it to win it — and lord knows I’m certainly not — your time doesn’t matter. Look at you go. You rock.
You are a runner. A real runner.
Pick up a pen, write a word, then another. Repeat often. Use a timer or set a minimum word count if that helps. Start small — 10 minutes. 300 words. Yay, you. Where you write doesn’t matter. What you write doesn’t even matter — the stories are within you, whether based on memory, imagination, or some ineffable blend of the two. And even if you secretly hope to win a Pulitzer, whether anyone thinks your writing is any good doesn’t matter.
You are a writer. A real writer.
“Writers write.” – Billy Crystal (as Larry Donner), Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
So, what does matter?
What matters is that you show up and pound the pavement and pound the keyboard. What matters is YOUR sweat. Your tears, because sometimes there will be tears. What matters is what you tell yourself. And most of all, what you actually DO.
Redo: She was a real runner. I was also a real runner.
This is where it gets really fun: We both get to be real, and we both get to be runners.
Same goes for writing. Sure, there are a million ways to barricade ourselves inside false beliefs about what is and isn’t possible and what counts as “real.” Sometimes, limitations are real and not imagined; not everything can be overcome. You might not be able to run, you may have no desire to run, and you may even hate running.
And what of writing? If you want to write, there are probably not many actual things standing in your way.
No wonder the writers I most respect and admire all say one common thing: You must write everyday, or at least most of them.
If you only write sporadically, there is a strong possibility you will never feel like a “real writer.” But if you believe your life isn’t interesting enough, think again. If you believe no one will ever take you seriously as a writer, start with taking yourself seriously. Then find one person, just a single person in your actual life, with whom to share your words.
Running buddies, writing buddies. It really works, to be accountable and cheered on, no matter how slow you go, no matter how messy you look, no matter whether you walk the whole way home. What better way, in the end, could there be to get there?
Whether it’s running, writing, or with something else, where do you discount yourself and what’s one step you could take to change that? I’d love to hear from you if you’re so inclined to leave a comment! Just one request: Keep it real.