the grind

I’m sure it’s getting tiresome – all of my talk of running and races and such. Perhaps more tiresome is when I try to draw writing lessons from my running.

Too bad.

I’ve never been much of a joiner. Perhaps it is because I was the persecuted kid in grade school; I was never welcomed into any group or clique (except by default with all of the other rejected kids). Don’t cry for me, though. I take strength from all of that. But I suspect that I went without for so long that I now see being a loner as a better, more preferred state and have turned the tables, shunning groups. In fact, in the two groups where I can claim membership — a local running club and a monthly book discussion group — I feel like an outsider only let in through charity or some community service-minded spirit. I realize that the problem is all inside my head, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that I pretty much keep my own counsel. I am training right now for a full marathon in October.* There are all sorts of rigorous training plans I could be following, with miles allotted to certain days, exercises allotted to others, rest days in between, and I know people who do follow these plans. I don’t. I tell myself that I should, but I don’t. I just grind out the miles, trying to go farther each week and maybe occasionally trying some suggestion I’ve overheard at some post-run rehydration session. If I did follow such a plan, I’d probably run a better marathon. I’d probably have less fatigue, more endurance, fewer aches and pains, something resembling a smile on my face as I cross the finish line. Part of me knows this, and that part of me says maybe I’ll actually follow a plan for my next marathon. (I must run at least two.)

The other part of me knows, however, that if I had a formal training plan drawn up, I wouldn’t follow it. I would try at first, and I would anguish when I started slacking, but I would fall into my usual just-grind-out-the-miles mindset. It’s self defeating, I know. But it is who I am.

And now the tenuous connection to writing.

I’ve tried a couple of times to join writing groups. I’ve never been satisfied with the results. When others read my stories and find “faults” or “weaknesses” or “areas for improvement” I nearly always automatically reject their input as missing the point or lacking a sufficient understanding of my brilliance or that kind of thing. Part of it is sheer defensiveness, of course. Part of it is not being comfortable with group dynamics. Part of it is laziness; rewriting is hard. And a small part of it, I really do think, is that I am right and they are wrong. So I keep my own counsel.

On the other side, I can’t ever seem to find anything nice to say about other peoples’ draft stories. All I can ever do is pick them apart and find their faults (real or imagined). Again, I fail in the whole group dynamics thing.

So I shun advice (for the most part — some of you have been helpful in your insights when I’ve dared to share something with you) and just grind out my work in the best and only way I know how. Yes, I might write more or better — or get more widely published — if I listened to more advice from others, kept to a more rigorous writing schedule, tried tricks like writing prompts to warm up, went to writing retreats, and all of those sorts of things. But that doesn’t seem to be who I am.

Yet my wandering in the wilderness must work. I am seeing stories published. I am getting supportive words from editors. I am developing a voice that I can call upon. Could I do even better? Perhaps. Will I try? Unlikely. I’ll just keep grinding along.

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*You can expect a thorough, blow-by-blow account here on the humble blog.

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3 Comments on “the grind”


  1. I think when a person reaches a certain point that they’ve read and written enough…that they know what they can improve. They see their strengths and really don’t need much more. But then, in that regard, I’m a bit like you.

    I do an annual writing retreat with a good friend. He’s 1/3 of an old writing group that dissolved because another 1/3 of the group often didn’t read our work and spent evenings either shredding it, or talking about his own work. It was always funny to get a critique from that guy and then from my friend who gets what I’m trying to do better than I seem to know at times. Our retreat is more an excuse to hang out in a cabin and get away from work for a few days. No critiques — we hike, write, drink beer (maybe smoke a cigar) and chat. But he’s the only person who’s company I seek when it comes to writing. I tend to find once a larger group is introduced, it becomes something that feels like school, with people taking sides and forming cliques. As adults — and I find that sad.

    I have read stuff by people who seek a large group of people for, it seems, praise along the way. People who jump on Twitter to say they are about to write and come back to say, “Whew, 126 words!” as though they just ran a marathon. I’m not fan of Jonathan Franzen’s fiction, and he is quite the angry-sounding person at times, but I agree with him that there needs to be a certain isolation and trust in self to write well. The people who write several books a year or those who can’t spend more than 20 minutes alone without sweeping through social media…it shows in their prose and often — a lack of depth in what they are doing.

    I think there’s a strength in knowing it’s unlikely you’ll do certain things. I occasionally go to a podcaster meetup, and there are always people talking about how to streamline processes and sharing productivity apps. I don’t really fit in because I don’t care about monetizing what I do and my productivity trick is to just not do so much. Same thing with writing and the few other things I enjoy doing. There’s a lot to be said for stumbling around in the wilderness and knowing you will eventually make it out reasonably okay.

  2. Lyra Says:

    Because you know I can’t help myself, google Hal Higdon’s marathon novice. Please? It’s a solid program, 18 weeks, and just look at the long run formula to make sure you are hitting the push longer, longer, step back idea. And don’t go over 20 for your longest. Marathon training is the closest thing to writing a novel I’ve come across. I know how hard you push and want to make sure that you know you also need to pull back. Love.

  3. Annam M. Says:

    I’m with you on the writing groups. It’s hard to find people who don’t try to offer comments based on how THEY would write it. The best readers are people who aren’t writers. I usually send my work to people who just read for fun and who read a lot. They know right away whether my work sucks or not. And so awesome about the marathon! Wow, envy. I could never run a marathon.


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