Friday, November 14, 2008

Race prep

I'm writing this because I have some down time while I wait for my training partner to show up. As soon as he gets here, we're heading out to San Antonio to run a marathon. This is something we've been training for since July, running ever longer runs through miserable July, August and September heat. All told, we each put in about 400 miles of road work. The weather in San Antonio looks great for a race--40 degrees at the start, mid 60s at the finish.

Running and writing are alike in some ways. I do them because I can. Any success can be attributed to practice, effort, hours on the pavement in the case of running, hours in the chair in the case of writing. If I don't succeed, I have only myself and my lazy habits to blame.

Running requires no talent that I can see. You put one foot in front of the other and repeat until you cross the finish line. How mysterious is that? Sure it requires a certain level of physical ability and health, but that's not the same as talent. Genes and physique are important for the world class runners, but that's not the same as talent either. You look at the winner of any marathon and he is definitely male, at the prime of life, very thin, possibly Kenyan. But that could describe thousands of individuals. The difference between the winner and everybody with similar genes and physique is practice. What will make the difference between me and hundreds of other middle-aged weekend warriors on Sunday is the number of miles in the preceding months.

I used to skydive. There's a sport that can't possibly require talent. How would a talent for skydiving evolve? None of us are descended from people who fell out of the sky. Skydiving is a sport that requires only practice for success.

Do you see where I'm going with this? When I pick my activities, I ask myself, will I be able to do well if I practice hard enough or is something else required? If something else--talent--is required, I leave it.

Why are some people able to produce beautiful, gripping stories and others write clunkers? Practice. We see the published work and think it's the product of talent. We don't see the hours in the chair, the thousands of poorly constructed sentences, the failed stories. I believe the word "talent" should be stricken from every writers vocabulary. It's nothing but an excuse as in, "I'd write a novel if I had the talent." Talent, schmalent, sit down and write and keep writing until you write something good. Put subject before verb and repeat until you cross the finish line. How hard is that?

Now, I'm off to San Antonio to get in touch with my inner Kenyan.


Morgan Mandel said...

I'm feeling a bit inadequate. (G) I can't run worth a darn any more and I'm afraid of heights. More power to you, Mark!

I'm a walker, which also best describes how I write. Some people zip through a manuscript, then go back and throw out words. I usually have to put them in. Maybe it was Journalism class in high school that did it, plus doing articles for the Daily Herald newspaper.

Morgan Mandel

Vivian Zabel said...

I can't run either. Arthritis makes even walking a struggle, but I keep plodding along, just as I keep writing at my own speed and in my own way. Interesting post, Mark.


Dana Fredsti said...

I hate running, but love walking. I'll get there in the end.

Good analogy, but I still think there are people who have a natural story telling talent that other people just don't have. As to whether they can write it well, that's where all that practice and hard work come into it.