Running off at the mouth

Here’s something I’ve noticed. Or here’s one of my learnings, as the narrator would say in Vernon God Little (I’d definitely recommend that book by the way, it’s a good ‘un – top tip).

Writers are also runners.

Not all of them obviously, that would be a remarkable coincidence, but lots of them. More, I would be confident in saying, than in an average sample of the population. And you can, of course, be sure that I am basing this assertion on bone headed instinct rather than peer reviewed scientific research, I mean pah, who needs that right?

So writers are runners, according to me. And why is this? What causes this mysterious, and completely unproven, link between two disparate activities?

Me at Tower BridgeWell, I write, as you know. And I also run – sometimes. I’ve been a bit useless and lazy with the running of late, but I did complete the London Marathon in a crap time in 2010 (to prove it here’s me at Tower Bridge) and I’ve done maybe 15 or more half marathons around the UK over the years.

And I would say there is a link between running and writing. They have similarities.

Firstly, they are both endurance events. It takes a long time to run a marathon and it takes a long time to write a novel. Training for one and writing the other are activities best suited to those who have an eye for the long-perspective, for people who can defer their gratification.

Secondly, they are both lonely activities.
One of the most elegiac pieces of writing about running was Alan Sillitoe’s short story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. And let us not forget the long distance writer, for she or he is lonely too, smuggled away in her quiet box room, staring at notebook or screen while the cool kids are out clubbing.

Thirdly, they both give you sore nipples.
Oh no, sorry, that’s just running.

Anyway, lots of us solitary, self-absorbed authors seem to run, and I think there is another reason we are suited to it too. Time to think. And not just time, but vintage time when there are no distractions and we are often in a heightened, almost hypnotic, state of mind in which thoughts flow through our brains which might not on other occasions.

I’ve written before about how a generation of writers, now recently passed, all seemed to be drunks – functioning alcoholics with a pen in one hand and a glass in the other. I would say that what sustenance they were getting from hitting the bottle many members of the current generation of writers seek out on the road or the trail.

It’s not just peace and quiet a writer finds while running, it’s not just an uninterrupted flow of thought. It’s also that chemically induced buzz which causes ideas to pop into your mind, or link together in unusual ways, which doesn’t happen at other times – except when you are just waking up from sleep, or are half drunk.

I have hatched countless stories while out on the road. Including The Runner, which won me the Bridport Prize and started life purely as a yearning to write about what it felt like to run.

Many scenes in Song of the Sea God were also born when my synapses sparked in unusual ways while I was running. It works – I think that’s why we do it, on some level we know it works.

Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God. You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Emotional wrestling match

Back in the day, when the world and I were young, there was only one Elvis my generation cared about and who could gain the unanimous approval of the student union bar. Elvis Costello, singer songwriter nonpareil. And Elvis once said, if memory serves, that the only true emotions he ever really felt were bitterness and jealousy.

I like to think I have a slightly broader emotional palate than that, though I do see where he was coming from – I would say that the emotional range he described was that of a very young person. I remember the days when I used to get jealous when other writers achieved success and bitter if I was rejected by an agent or publisher, or if a story I’d written failed to win a competition.

These days I waver between being pleased or indifferent when other authors taste success and as for bitterness – well, I’ve accumulated that many rejection slips over the years I could paper my house with them and make a start on your lounge – they just don’t sting any more. I’ve learned just to count the successes, and ignore the failures. And thankfully there have been some successes.

These days I’d say a big pair of emotions for me are guilt and laziness. Is laziness an emotion? Well I certainly feel lazy a lot of the time so I’m saying it is.

The way this pair work is like a tag wrestling team. The other day I was planning to go out running for example, but it was bitterly cold out and frankly I couldn’t be bothered. Yet I knew I should and had promised myself I would. So there we had guilt in the blue corner and laziness in the red corner, seconds out, round one.

In the end I went for the run. When I got back I couldn’t feel my face for a whole hour. It was still there though, I checked in the mirror.

The whole business of writing for me is balanced between guilt and laziness. I am not currently writing fiction. I promised myself a break when Song of the Sea God was published. But that was four months ago now and I should really start again. I should, but I am too lazy. Yet not writing is making me feel guilty. The guilt will slowly build – do gym work, take steroids, until it is strong enough to get in the ring for the final showdown with laziness and whup, as the Americans would say, its butt.

At that point I will get back to it – until then idleness reigns.

What’s your motivation for writing?

Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God. You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.