We’re sitting at a small table for two at a bakery cafe inside the mall when she shares her news. She’s written a book. After beating back months of reluctance, she’s finished it and is thinking of finding an editor. I lean back to listen instead of leaning forward to instruct.
Today is a purely social engagement.There is no manuscript sitting between us as there has been every other time we’ve met. No sheets of paper slide back and forth as I explain my edits of her work and compare them to her original printouts. Today she just wants to talk.
We met when she was a student in my class. Now she’s graduated from the writing program and has finished her first book. I stare at her, expecting her to look different. She’s crossed the finish line while I haven’t even put my name in the race.
If we were runners, she’d be a marathoner. I’d be a sprinter.
Granted, she began writing a handful of years ago and I’ve been doing it for nearly two decades (okay, maybe longer). But I have made my way around the track hundreds of times in over two thousand sprints while she’s hit the open road and run steadily.
Now she’s completed her 26 miles and actually gotten somewhere whereas all I’ve done is run in a circle. I’ve logged hundreds of miles, but always around that circle. Always in short sprints. Never in a marathon.
The timing is particularly hard. We met yesterday, and today I found out that a website I’d written hundreds of blog posts for literally blew them all away. A couple of keyboard taps, some changes in code, and all that work is gone.
When someone tells you to run in a circle for a paycheck, you run in a circle. That’s the life of a freelance writer. But when you write for your pleasure, your craft and your art, you run for the rhythm of your heart beating in time with the pounding of your feet against the ground.
You run for the joy and the heartache and the need to blow off steam, release demons, get your head clear and your limbs stretched and warmed up until they’re spent, until you’re exhausted and feel at the verge of wobbly.
You run because you can, because you want to, because you’re not too old to prove something and not too young to not know what you’re doing. You run and you write and you describe your own journey with your feet and your words. You choose the landscape you inhabit, and you run and you write because you are driven to it. It’s your time. It’s your story. It’s your life.
She’s run far ahead of me, and the ribbon that broke across her chest as she crossed the finish line still clings to her. Yes, it’s a metaphor, but I see its touch has anointed her. I see the celebratory gleam reflected in her eyes, in her face, in her manner. Nobody is judging her time or her pace or comparing her to anyone else. In this marathon, if you finish, you win.
Where are you headed in your writing life? Are you going the distance as she did, or are you running in a circle and following my poor and unproductive lead? Are you choosing your long-term path, or running errands for a check here, a few dollars there?
Run. Write. Don’t make excuses about the weather, the mood you’re in, the fact that your feet hurt or your head isn’t in the right place.
Lace up those sneakers. Pull out that keyboard or notebook. Go long. Go strong. Go on … and on … and on … and don’t stop.