The Long Haul
Last week, while I was in my native southeastern Illinois, I ran at the high school track. One morning as I was running, a grounds person was mowing grass. I’d just finished my run and left the track for my stretches and cool-down, when the man on the mower stopped and asked me how far I’d run.
“Four miles,” I told him.
“What are you?” he asked. “Sixty?”
“I’m sixty-five,” I said.
“Whew.” He shook his head. “I’m sixty and I doubt I could even run one lap around that track.” This is where I could have told him I started running nearly forty years ago, and I was afraid to stop because I knew once I did time would catch up with me. I’m learning, as the years go on, I don’t like making concessions to age. Before I could say anything, though, he said, “Keep it up, man!” And with that he put the mower into gear and was gone.
I’m here this morning to tell you sometimes it gets hard to keep going—with the running and the writing. Years ago, I made what I knew was a lifetime commitment to both, and I intend to honor it as long as I can. I run and I write because each activity opens me to the world and allows me to engage with it with more curiosity, more energy, more appreciation for how glorious—and yes, how sometimes maddening—our living can be. In short, both running and writing make me feel more alive.
I remember the days when I feared my writing would never amount to anything. I also remember those early running days when, like the man on the mower, I couldn’t run a lap without gasping for breath. I could have easily stopped, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. I suppose I kept at it because I liked the way the run or the writing session made me feel like I had control over something—over my characters and their invented worlds and over my being, both physical and mental. Little by little, I came to realize that both writing and running weren’t just pastimes; they were essential to the way I saw myself. They weren’t just what I did; they were who I was.
Maybe you’re out there struggling with your writing, wondering whether it’s worth your time going on. Ask yourself how important it is to you. If you can’t imagine yourself being happy without the writing, then by all means keep going. Don’t worry about the results. Take the word “publication” out of your vocabulary. Do what you love—what you have to do—and trust the process to take you where you’re meant to be.
Each run I take begins with a single step; each thing I write begins with a single keystroke or the press of pen to paper. I do my best, though, to remember all those years ago when I took that first running step or when I first faced the blank page. Years and years have gone by, and I don’t want the journey to end. That’s why I keep going. I could have told the man on the mower that. I’m in it for the long haul. I keep going because I want to keep living.
My ambition to be a published writer has dwindled as I’ve gotten older and sometimes I mistake that for a loss of interest in writing at all. We’re so programmed to think that we’re not “real” writers unless we’re published that it’s hard to stay motivated if it doesn’t happen. Is it okay to call yourself a writer if you don’t even try to get published?
Ellen, I understand the inclination to desire validation via publication for the writing we do, but I think we can absolutely call ourselves writers without publication. Writing is what we do; therefore, we’re writers. Thanks so much for the question.
Three months ago I committed to writing and performing a solo show at The Marsh Theatre in San Francisco. At age 67!
The class, taught by Director David Ford, has put me through many surprising challenges, not to mention 20 (or more) script rewrites!
My partner, a working journalist, found your book “Passing The Word” two days ago.
He told me I should read it. So I started.
I googled your name this morning, and read this inspiring post. Your book and this post encourage me to carry on, not give up!
Step by step…
Thank you so much!
Learning the craft just never ends.
It only gets deeper.
You’re so right that learning the craft only gets deeper as we do. Keep doing the good work!