It’s a beautiful day here in central Ohio—sunny, temps in the mid-sixties, low humidity—a perfect day for a run. After years of running outside, I made the switch to a treadmill a few years ago. Then the pandemic hit and the gyms closed, and I was back on the streets.
I’ve been running since the early eighties. Each time I entered a new decade, I wondered whether I could keep running to the end of it. Would I still be running when I was forty, fifty, sixty? I had interruptions, most notably a stroke in 2012 that sidelined me for a while, and then sciatica nerve pain which flares up from time to time. Somehow I’ve always managed to lace up the running shoes again and get back out there even though there have been times when it felt like I was starting from scratch. Now, I’m a few months away from my sixty-fifth birthday, and I feel fortunate to still be running. Over the years, I’ve logged a lot of miles, just by putting one foot in front of the other.
A writing career happens the same way, one word after another. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Regularity, it seems to me, is essential to productivity. The more often you write, the more you write, and the more you write, the better you write. There are those days when I don’t feel like writing or running, but I know if I just try—if I make that first mark on the page, or take that first step on a run—I’ll end up somewhere I wouldn’t if I refused the opportunity. As I age, I come to understand more and more that our lives are made up of such opportunities. Time dwindles, the opportunities don’t last forever, and therefore, become more precious. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to run or write. I can only know the present moment, and when an opportunity comes, I don’t want to waste it.
Sometimes when I don’t feel like writing, I open a document that I’m working on and start to reread the last few pages. Inevitably, I’ll find myself rewriting a sentence, and that small intervention ignites the creative impulse and the next thing I know I’m writing new pages. More often than not, I get to the end of the writing session, having pushed a narrative further along and in the process coming to know more about my characters and their situations. Putting oneself into motion becomes a creative act.
I sometimes think about all the times, especially early in my writer’s journey, when I was tempted to quit. The piles of rejections, the gatekeepers I couldn’t manage to budge, and a world that in general had no understanding of why one would want to sit in a room for hours on end telling stories made it easy to consider giving it all up in favor of a more accepted, and in some ways, more comfortable, way of spending my days. “How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard says, “is of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” At some points in our lives we all have to face the question of how we want to spend our days. In spite of the rejection, the disappointment, and the hurt, I knew I wanted to spend my days telling stories, so I kept writing. “Many of life’s failures,” Thomas Edison said, “are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Let that sink in. How close you might be to success if only you’ll keep going.
This morning, I intended to run a few miles on the large soccer fields behind a Baptist Church near my home, but the church was having outdoor services, so I ran on past and kept going on a route I hadn’t previously run. One foot in front of the other. In spite of the twinges of pain in my hips and lower back, one foot in front of the other. Five miles later, I was home.