runaway writing

Last summer, when I ran my first 5K, I knew (as I was plodding along, surprised at myself) that I would somehow incorporate running into one of my Fathers and Sons stories. I wasn’t sure just how at the time, but I realized that this sport was going to take up a large part of my life, and I figured I ought to put the experience to work.

Fast forward to April. I completed the Trolley Run in Kansas City last month, and I finally felt I was ready to begin that running story. Now, there are a couple of things you need to know. First, unless a plot bursts fully formed in my mind (and I’m not sure that has ever happened), I tend to “accumulate” a story in pieces. Images present themselves. Bits of dialog. A theme that seems worthy of developing. I collect these bits and copy them into a file that seems suitable until the story itself begins to gel. When I reach some intangible tipping point, I generally start writing the first draft of the story, knowing that it will evolve from there, sometimes in far different directions than I ever imagined.

The second point is that the Trolley Run was a watershed for me in many ways. When I first began trotting around the dog park with my Border Collie a year ago, I couldn’t conceive the notion that I could run a quarter mile, much less the 3.1 miles of an entire 5K. But I thought that if I stuck with it, pushed myself farther, and kept my eyes on a goal, maybe, just maybe, I could do it. I set the Trolley Run this year as my goal. (I didn’t know at the time that it was 4 miles long, longer than a regular 5K.)

The running story continued to accumulate, and the general outline of the plot revealed itself to me. Basically, a son it taking up running, which is an activity his father doesn’t share, and though this is a good thing in general, it becomes another thing that divides the two. (My working title right now is “Runaway” with multiple possible meanings, of course.) I thought that the Trolley Run, which is an annual event of some renown here in Kansas City, would be a good setting for my running story. Thus I had to wait until I had done the Trolley Run before I began the story in earnest.

Well, I completed the Trolley Run, and last weekend I started on the story. Even though I’ve done a half dozen 5Ks and three 10Ks, and even though my afternoon runs are generally far longer than 4 miles, the Trolley Run had become my psychological barrier. Because it was the goal I had set for myself a year ago, it was far more meaningful for me to complete than any of the other runs I’ve done. Well, I burst through that barrier (at a pretty decent pace for my ability, even setting a PR), and while I’m not sure that’s given me any insight to my story, it’s given me the raw, real-world material I needed.

I had reached the tipping point. As I said, I started on “Runaway” over the weekend, and I think I made pretty good progress on it. I’ve mentioned here before that I really need to devote some effort to working out the timeline of these stories. Three generations of men, spanning a lot of years, but so many of the stories are particular moments in their lives, not sweeping themes. How old is the central character in each story? When was he born? When does it have to take place so that subsequent (and prior) moments fall in line properly? Does it make sense that he is this or that age when this or that happens? And so on.

Right now, I can write most of these stories without obsessing too much over that. But someone needs to tell me to buckle down and work out the timeline.

(I’m training now to run a half marathon in October. It’s my new psychological barrier. Yikes!)

Explore posts in the same categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

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2 Comments on “runaway writing”

  1. Pete Says:

    Congrats on both watersheds. Looking forward to reading the result. My buddy Ben Tanzer wrote a great book on the intersection between running and writing, called 99 Problems:

  2. Annam Says:

    I admire your commitment.

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