I didn’t expect to find a story about writing in my beloved Runner’s World magazine. But then I did. It shouldn’t really surprise me. I see running and writing as going together like PB and J. I didn’t become a runner to improve my writing. That was an unexpected side effect–and is probably why I’ve stuck with running. But, to be clear, I didn’t even set out to “become a runner.” It just sort of happened, gradually. Now I’m training for my first full marathon, which not-so-curiously has aligned with finishing my novel (news coming soon, I promise).
In the latest issue of Runner’s World, Michael Heald runs with and interviews (yes, at the same time) Jamie Quatro, whose first short story collection I Want to Show You More got a ton of good reviews. Michael has always been a reader and writer. He says:
“Everyone talks about ‘escaping’ into books, but even as a kid, the escape was never what I looked for. The characters might not resemble me in the slightest, the setting might be totally unfamiliar, but I’ve always hoped to find some new piece of myself–a string of words capturing my own feelings exactly. My favorite kind of reading is like looking through a window at a rainstorm: You’re staying dry, but once in a while, the light might allow you to see your own reflection out in it.”
Yes, yes, yes, that’s it. I would trust this guy to interview any writer. He gets it.
Jamie Quatro tells him (and us) that running is a big part of her creative process. Before smartphones, she’d stop on a long run to scratch a word or two into her arm with a stick so she’d remember what to do with a story when she got home. Sometimes, still, I take a stack of post-its and a pen with me because I’m not a huge fan of typing notes into my iPhone. But that’s just me.
Here’s how Heald sums up running and writing for Quatro:
“When she’s done for the day, or when she just needs a break, she’ll put on her shoes, and within a mile or two be totally absorbed, just relaxing into her run, when suddenly she’ll realize that what she’s actually doing is figuring things out, thinking back over what she worked on that morning.”
“Most of my best ideas come away from the computer. That kind of reflection just isn’t possible online.”
She goes on:
“It’s amazing the things that can happen on a run. Especially when I go straight from writing to running, all these solutions will occur to me.”
This has been exactly my experience. In general, running is mind-clearing, and I need a clear mind to work through my writing. In a way, writing helps my running too. If I didn’t have stories to contemplate on my long runs, I’d get incredibly bored.
I’m not saying all writers should take up running. I still think running is slightly crazy and strange. But, there is something magical about finding an activity (any activity) that puts you in that proverbial zone. For some writers, it’s a dog walk. For others, an alcoholic beverage. For others, yoga. For others, a day at the movie theater.
I can’t wait to read Quatro’s book. It just arrived on my doorstep. Here’s an excerpt I love from one of the stories, “Ladies and Gentleman of the Pavement.”
“You hear a lot about the so-called runner’s high. Before I was a runner, I figured if there was such a thing, it would hit you like an injection. You’d be jogging along and zing–a sudden leap into euphoria, the overwhelming desire to jump for joy and shout hallelujah. But it’s not like that. It’s a gradual transition into a state of mental clarity. You don’t realize it’s happening until you’re there. For me, it begins around mile eight. The smallest details become sharp. My senses open up and I can take everything in–telephone wires silhouetted against blue sky, layered bark on the trunk of a tree. The chuk-chuk-chuk of a woodpecker. By mile ten I no longer feel my feet touching the ground. It’s as if my mind has entered its own physical space, apart from my body, as if my body is dead but in no pain–never any pain, these middle miles. Because my body is gone, or more accurately, is on autopilot, my mind is free to roam. This separation of mind from flesh, spirit from matter, is what keeps me coming back for more…”
As cliché as it sounds, I really couldn’t have said it better myself.