This morning I ran the Capital City Half Marathon for the third time. I’ve run several half marathons in the past seven years, and as for overall good feeling before and after the race, this race was my best yet. Around mile 5 or 6 of the run, I put into words what it was that was making this race so good for me, so that I could stay feeling good for the rest of the run, and I kept repeating three phrases over and over to myself: stick your neck out; listen to your body; come to your own edge. It was around mile 7 that I began to see how these mantras applied to my writing life too.
Stick your neck out
This mantra has a simple, practical application to running and has to do with physical alignment. I have experienced shoulder and neck tension with frequency during runs. I’ve tried various tricks to keep my shoulders relaxed, but today something clicked for me. “Stick your neck out” reminded me to keep a long neck and to extend through the top of my head. For the first time ever, I had absolutely no tension in my neck and shoulders during the run.
I was basking in this freedom of movement and turning the corner of mile 7 or so, when I thought about how “stick your neck out” also applied to my writing life now. I just finished my first novel, have written a query and synopsis, and am attempting to find an agent. After twenty years of writing, I am finally willing to stick my neck out and try to sell my work. In the past so many things have prevented me risking rejection. I felt overwhelmed by the publishing process. I felt less-than other writers. I did not trust my own instincts. Mostly, I just didn’t believe I could do it and so I didn’t stick my neck out. I have sent out 20 queries to agents in the past two weeks and already received five rejections, and despite those rejections, I feel a freedom of movement much like I felt during the run this morning. In a different way, I am sticking my neck out.
Listen to your body
At mile 4 I was running hot and though the rain was coming down and people around me were still wearing their long sleeves, I peeled off my long-sleeve layer. I ran the rest of the run in a tank top. The relief I experienced when I peeled off that layer was ecstatic and came as a result of listening to my body. I listened to my breath. I felt the cool raindrops on my skin. I slowed and quickened my pace entirely based on my own body’s signals (breath, temperature, body sensations). I tuned out what other runner’s around me were doing with their bodies just like I would in a yoga class, a place where listening to my own body and not looking around are givens. Today I found that I could do the same in running more than I ever had before. The resulting feeling of freedom filled my heart with love. I made it a goal to say thank you to the volunteers I passed along the rest of the route and I did.
Listening to my body in my writing life has to do with accepting the natural ebb and flow of my creative energy and not judging my own writing practice by what I did the day before, what another writer does, or what I think I should do. As I mentioned, I just finished my first novel. I am eager to get back to the page. I even know what my next project is going to be. I have a roll of butcher paper that has been sitting in the corner of my bedroom for a week now in anticipation of mapping out the plot of my next project. I also have some short stories I am working on. Should I start mapping that plot while I am also researching agents and sending out queries? Should I split my daily writing time between queries and writing time? These are questions I have been struggling with. This morning, on the run, I discovered my answer. No. I will write when I am ready and when I am done sending out queries. I may take some notes here and there, but when I listen to my body and I think of having my head in a writing project and trying to sell my book, I feel my breathe catch and my muscles tense and I realize that I need to slow down my pace and do what feels right, not what I think I should do.
Come To Your Own Edge
Come to your own edge was the mantra today that reminded me to push myself the whole way. I have a tendency to be a bit easy on myself when I run and this phrase reminded me to stay in the moment and push to the best of my ability.
In my writing, coming to my own edge means to find time to write every day and to value that writing time by staying focused in the moment, setting goals and working toward them. It means being a good self-editor by being willing to delete, revise, or set aside work that isn’t my best. Coming to my own edge means that when I’m writing, I am just writing (not multitasking) and I am doing the best writing I am capable of in that moment.
Somewhere between mile 5 or 6, I had come up with the language for how I wanted this run to go: stick your neck out; listen to your body; come to your own edge. I was saying those three phrases over and over to myself and it was at about mile 7 that I began to see how each of those phrases related to my writing practice as I want it to be. I thought to myself, “The first thing I’m going to do when I finish this race is find someone with a pen I can borrow.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far. My pals at Guerrilla Running were the first booth I came to. As I write this, I am reading the notes I made on the back of one of their flyers.