How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~Henry David Thoreau
Nothing ever happened to me. How was I supposed to be a writer if nothing ever happened to me?
Okay, okay. Some things happened to me. Sometimes I got poop on my hands when I changed my one-year-old son’s diaper. But that gets old after you write about it one or two or twenty times.
So I sat. And sat and sat and sat on my couch with my laptop burning the tops of my thighs, but no words came to me. When my son was awake, we played or ate, but when he was asleep, I sat.
And then, one day, I read an article that made so much sense I almost stood up and slapped myself in the forehead. You need to get out, it said. Get out and experience the world! Then you will really have something to write about.
Well, it was something like that anyway. But it’s true. I had to get out and do something. But what? And, more importantly, how?
My body was in a constant state of hurt from a bulging disc in my lower back. Every movement caused shooting pains down my left leg and into my toes. I’d had it for months. At 31 years old, I felt like I was 91. Every action was slow and careful. Inside, I felt hopeless.
I went to a chiropractor and began to get some help. He manipulated my back, which helped a little, but after a couple of months and not a whole lot of improvement, the chiropractor, who was a runner, just gave it to me straight: “You need to move.”
But writers don’t move, right? They sit. I was a writer.
After an MRI and a visit with a neurosurgeon, I decided against disc-shaving surgery. That didn’t guarantee the problem wouldn’t return later. And, you know what the surgeon told me?
“You need to move.” The nerve!
(Get it? The nerve?)
How was I supposed to move more if it hurt to stand? Heck, even all that sitting I was doing was painful. But the surgeon sent me to get a cortisone shot in my back, and after about a week, it kicked in and I felt a little relief. I thought, “Maybe I could go for a walk.” It was the beginning of July and the sun was finally out in Seattle, so I hobbled down the concrete sidewalks of my neighborhood pushing my son in his red plastic car.
Surprisingly, after about a week of this my back muscles began to loosen, and I began to get bored with walking. I thought about…running.
I don’t know why I thought about running, but I did. Probably because it is something I know – I ran on the track and cross country teams in high school, and I ran for soccer and other sports back then, too. Or, maybe I saw someone running with their child in a jogging stroller, and I knew I had one in the garage, so it seemed like an activity I could do with my son, who was starting to nap less and less.
One day, I ran a few steps. And, surprisingly, it didn’t hurt any more than walking! I decided the next day, I would dig my old, dusty running shoes out of the hall closet and go for a real run, which I did. And you know what?
It wasn’t great.
It was hot in the Pacific Northwest that July 18th, and I couldn’t catch my breath on the dusty trail near my house. I had to alternate running and walking. Worse, my 200-pound body jiggled all over the place. Not that I cared whether people made fun of me, it was just uncomfortable. But, hey, I was moving!
Back at home, I put my son down for a nap, and then I sat. I let my laptop warm the tops of my legs. But this time I had something to write about.
A couple weeks before my first run, I had seen the movie Julie and Julia, in which an aspiring writer starts a blog to share her experiences cooking all of the recipes from Julia Childs’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a single year. I liked the idea. It sounded like an adventure, which I needed.
I’d gone from working 40 hours a week in a corporate environment to being a mom and working 16 hours a week at a small company. Besides the occasional play date and book club meeting, I did a lot of talking to myself. So I started a running blog.
I decided I would write about training for a marathon – something I dreamt about back when I was 16 and could run 7-minute miles. Even though I wasn’t that girl anymore, I still had the dream. Besides, I figured it would make for some good blog posts since I was so out of shape.
The next day, things really started happening.
My son and I were out walking and there was this bug that kept buzzing me in the face making me swing at it like a raging orangutan out in front of all my neighbors.
Before, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to write about this scenario, but having the blog changed my mind set. I came home and wrote about it, and I laughed as I typed.
Over a couple of months, I continued to run, and I continued to write about it. I worked up to three miles, then four, then ten, and I trained for and completed a half marathon that November. I was now on my way toward my ultimate goal.
This was it. This was the adventure I’d been looking for. Every time I went for a run, something happened. It wasn’t always something as exciting as seeing a giant buck staring me down on the trail, or running 11 miles in a downpour with a new friend, or fracturing my shin four weeks before what was supposed to be my first marathon. Sometimes all that happened was just that I got really cold and I couldn’t wait to get back inside. Or maybe sometimes it was trying an elliptical machine for the first time. It didn’t matter. With every workout, something new, hard, interesting, or funny would happen, and I’d write about it.
Every day the world offered up something new. That was two years, fifty pounds, four half marathons and one marathon ago. And I haven’t sat down since. Well, that is, except to write about what happened to me during my runs.
GO OUT and GET YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
- Choose a goal. Maybe you don’t want to run a marathon, but certainly there is something you would like to accomplish. Maybe you want to conquer your fear of swimming, learn to play guitar, or be the next hot-dog eating champion. Whatever it is, decide on a goal.
- Don’t think, just do. I used to dream about running a marathon. Dreaming did not get me up the hill at Mile 25. You have to do something toward your goal. Don’t even make a plan, just do something!
- Make a plan. Okay, now that you’ve starting acting toward your goal, it would be helpful to have a plan. You’ve probably discovered a few things about your goal, and that will help you figure out the best way to achieve it. For me, I had to break down the daunting task of training for a 26.2-mile race day-by-day. A plan will also help you stick with your new activity.
- Document it. Why? Because when you go back, after you’ve accomplished your goal, and see all the things that happened to you, all that you did and overcame, you will feel incredibly proud. You can write about it or take photographs or keep a chart.
- Stick with it. It takes 21 days to make a habit. Having the blog helped me since I was excited to write about what happened to me during my runs. A training plan helped keep me on track, too. Tell yourself you can quit after 21 days, but until then, you have to stick with it – whatever it is.
Chances are, you’ll be hooked to your new adventure and new way of life!