Kris Rusch has an interesting article on her blog today about the similarities, and the differences, between writers and runners.
I’m not a runner, and I never have been, but I understand the point she’s making because there are a lot of analogies you could use, and I have plenty of them in my own background to draw on.
If you haven’t read Kris’s blog post, do so now. It’s worth a read if you’re a writer. It’s sort of eye-opening, because she starkly states what I, at least, didn’t want to admit.
With few exceptions, when you talk to a writer about what their goals are, they’re going to tell you about their delusions. Contrast this with most athletes, who will tell you what their next goal is in their progression.
As examples, Kris, a runner, points out if you ask someone who is a runner what their goals are it will be something like adding more distance in the same amount of time to their runs. Or maybe their goal is to be in sufficient condition to enter some sort of race – a 5K or 10K, for example. Or it might be to beat their personal best time in some distance or race. A lot of examples.
It might also be to improve their training somehow. Maybe they need a better hydration strategy. Maybe they need to improve their endurance. So they might tell you how they want to improve that portion of their training routine.
But if you ask a writer their goal, it will be either an amorphous, poorly defined thing, or it will be the delusions writers have about their writing. To sell a million copies. To be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephen King. To be the next [insert big-name, bestselling author here].
No writer I’ve ever encountered (and there aren’t that many to be honest) has ever told me their next goal is to improve their training routine.
Yes, writers need to practice. They have to improve. There are a lot of writers – and yeah, I’m one of ’em – who buy a lot of craft books (mostly on the same topics) and then don’t read them. Oh, sure, sometimes I do, when it hooks me deep enough. But for the most part, I start reading them and then other things take that time away from reading.
No writer I’ve ever talked to has told me they were going to start studying bestsellers. Or that they even know how to study bestsellers. But Kris Rusch states repeatedly (as does her husband, Dean Wesley Smith) that if you want to write a bestseller, you need to study them too.
Kris also said something I’ve heard before – the first million words are practice. Most writers will need to pump a million words or so through their fingers to find their own, unique voice. For seriously prolific writers like King, Rusch, DWS, et. al, that happens fairly early in their careers. But I didn’t even start writing seriously, with intent to improve my craft, until 2007.
And then, I didn’t know there was a “craft” to improve, really. I thought you either had talent or didn’t. But I did know more writing would yield better writing. I guess I knew that by instinct. And I knew I wanted to write like Stephen King since high school. So I tried imitating him. But I stopped practicing and never learned the better ways of studying those writers I loved.
Now, at almost 50 years old, I’m trying to learn how to do this for the first time all over again.
The reason I liked Kris’s post is because she nailed me. I’m the guy who thought lightning would strike me the way it struck other million-sellers on their “first” try. No one sees the work they put in, or the dues they paid in other areas of writing, or the practice they put in every night, every waking moment, every fleeting chance.
(Do blog posts count? I wonder how those would add to my current word count. Hm.)
I don’t practice like I should. At one time, in a dark place in my life, I practiced a lot. I wrote every day, and every Thursday night I tried to pump out a new Flash Fiction for the #FridayFlash group. I posted my stories to the collector they had, an aggregator for those stories and writers. It was fun, and it helped tighten my prose.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped practicing.
I’m the runner who wants to step up to the starting line and finish the New York or Boston marathon in first place, but whose only practice involves walking around his living room coffee table for 20 minutes every few weeks. Or, more likely, involves watching runners on the Internet and saying, “Oh, I could run better than that if I had the chance.”
Yeah, I’ve done stupid like that.
This doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. It means I’m not practicing the way I should, not putting enough words through my fingers. I’m not doing the things I did to experience the growth I experienced a few years ago. Have I regressed? Some, yes. But until I cease, it’s not too late.
I can still practice.
To be good at this business involves a lot. Being a good student of the craft, of the masters, of those doing what you want to do and doing it well, and successfully. It involves learning what the business aspect of writing and publishing is like, what it’s about, and how to work in it and with it. And it involves practicing, as much as possible, for the rest of your life.
So if I had to define a goal for myself, right now in my career, it would be to become a master storyteller. That’s a multi-faceted goal. It involves getting more practice in, of course, but how I practice is wide open.
I think the first thing I want to do is finish writing my series. I just wrote book two. I need to do book one over again, and talking about it won’t get it done. But one of the goals I have is to practice more, getting in at least 5K words a week. If I do that while writing a novel, well, that helps me get to both facets of the goal.
Next goal will be to improve on that 5K per week, and shoot for something more like 7500 per week. And if I do that while writing the next book in my Scales of Justice universe, well, that won’t hurt anything.
So, goals. And if I can’t seem to get those goals, maybe it’s time to look at my practice routine, come up with a new strategy.
But being a great storyteller doesn’t happen by accident, and talent only takes someone so far. The rest is hard work and dedication to being better.
I think, at this point, that’s where I am in my career.