Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 9 Feb 2000 08:40:54 -0500

Easy Writer

(from RC 291)

Writing attracts me for most of the same reasons that running does. Both create something from nothing -- words on blank paper in one case, miles on an empty roads in the other.

In both, your results just about equal your efforts -- both in the big event and in the practice leading up to it. Both are solo in the sense that no one can do your work for you.

Bernie Greene shares my twin passions. He isn't a writer by profession, but he plays one in various running magazines. The U.S. Government statistician takes his avocation seriously, even while writing mostly humorous pieces.

He's about the only person ever to ask me specific questions about our favorite sedentary activity, which also happens to be my job. One of his many e-mail messages asked, "Is writing as easy for you as it looks?"

It isn't easy for him, he added. "Gawd, I'm forever revising, editing, tweaking, and even then I'm not quite satisfied."

Is my writing easy? No at one level. Yes at another.

There are two sides to writing, just as there are to running. We have the public side, which is publication for the writer and racing for the runner. And we have the private side, which is practice for the writer and training for the runner.

The public writing that Bernie talks about is the only type that our readers ever see. It is hard work for the same reasons that a race is, because it reveals exactly who we are at our best.

As a public writer I work hard at making it look easy (to borrow a phrase from George Sheehan). Like Bernie Greene I fuss over the wording of these pieces to make them sound casually conversational. Then I still think, when the published piece appears: This could have been better.

As a oldtimer runner I pretend that race results no longer matter, but they do. I still run as well as my current training and talent allow, casual as these efforts might appear. I still think of how this public running could have been better.

The other side of both activities is the private daily writings and runs. These are truly easy most of the time, or should be if they are to remain everlastingly satisfying. Effort, concentration and especially self-criticism all must ease.

My private writing is a daily diary page that no one else sees in its raw form (see "Writing Well" (July RC). I can't fuss over these pieces as if they were bound for publication because that would be too much work, too often.

This writing is almost as easy as talking to myself. The results range from dreadful, to routine, to on odd occasions worth dressing up and going public in a column.

My private running is usually short and slow (see "Not So Hard," November RC). I don't work any harder because that would surely tear me down beyond overnight repair.

These runs can be almost as easy as walking. They can range from awful, to unspectacular, to -- at rare moments -- worth taking to a race.

The easy running, like the easy writing, isn't pretty. But both serve as low-stress private practice for the hard, public work to follow.

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