Sunday, July 5, 2009

Soul Searching

Right now, for me, it is a time of change.

It is a time of questioning what I want to focus on.

There's writing, running, teaching, and family. Those are some of the big priorities in my life. Oddly, I don't always focus on some of the things that define me, namely running.

Next Sunday I will begin the long drive from Washington to Minnesota, and along the way I will think about my goals. The biggest thing that I want to change, with the new move, is how much I run. I've arranged my work schedule so that I can get a run in first thing, and my wife and I chose a place to live that is just a few blocks away from a lake with a running and biking trail around it. Things seem to be set up to make the dream of being a runner happen again.

How does this relate to writers???

About fifteen years ago I read a book by Steven Covey called SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE. In that book was some advice about how important it is to have different quadrants in your life that you value. Part of the idea is that when one area of your life is not going so well you can handle it because you have other areas in your life that are going well. If all that you focus on is writing, what happens when things do not turn out how you want? Somehow I think that I, and you, can move on and make things better when the whole self is not vulnerable. For me, that means time with family, time running, time teaching, and time reading.

Running has other benefits for writers, benefits that you may or may not have discovered. Anthony recently asked us what our favorite book is, and I loved his response. Well, keeping with that way of thinking, I will say that my favorite book right now is the one I just started reading. It's called THE RUNNER'S GUIDE TO THE MEANING OF LIFE. There's a nice chapter on listening to yourself. You should skim through it the next time you are in a bookstore. Here's a sample that shows that running can benefit writers because it helps us to turn our thoughts inward and focus on our writing.

"When I run, I'll often work out several story ideas for an upcoming issue of Runner's World magazine. Or figure out how to reorganize a story that's sitting on my desk, waiting to be edited. Without fail, I think about stories I'd like to write myself when I get the chance ... How strange that running, which seems so outwardly physical, is actually the most thoughtful of activities."

You might think that you don't have time to run or that it would be painful, certainly not fun. Well, I've been discovering a new way to run that is a blast. It's called chasing after my son and daughter as they ride their bikes. There's a lot of stop and go, but it gets me out and moving, and it keeps the kids happy. I challenge you to come up with a form of exercise that is a blast for you. What's nice about this kind of running is that it doesn't look like I am an out of shape runner trying to get back in shape. It just looks like I am out having a good time with my kids. I wouldn't normally care what others think, but I've been living in Ellensburg--a small rodeo town--for about four years now. It's surprising how many friends, co-workers, and baristas see me as I run. That's not a bad thing when I am in shape, but I'd rather not make my attempt to get back into shape a spectacle for people as they drive to Fred Meyers. It's a lot more fun to run out that way and pick up a yogurt smoothie with my kids and then run back.

I've recently been doing some serious soul searching. Perhaps you have too. Running and balancing out priorities is all good, but I've also been thinking about the Pacific Northwest Writers Association contest, and the results. If you read my blog last week you know that it was a painful experience to see that I was not a finalist. Perhaps you've had a similar experience. By the way, I appreciated every one's comments quite a bit. So, here's where I am at with that now that I have received the feedback from two contest judges. Basically, I had a big thumbs up from one judge and a big thumbs down from the other. Go figure! I'll save the judge bashing for when my writers group takes me out for a beer because I am moving, which I really appreciate! Here's a proactive thought: positive thinking. One judge scored my entry as a 22 out of 25 on each of the following two questions. Did the story grab you? Would you read more? The bottom line is that my story, and yours, will probably not appeal to everyone. It matters more that it has a strong appeal to some people. And, for what it is worth, I care very much what people think when I can tell that the story itself clicks with them.

Still, in the end, I like to win. Part of winning seems to be having the luck of getting two people that your story appeals to. As frustrating as this experience has been, it reminds me that the process of finding an agent and a publishing house is the same. It's a matter of finding people the story appeals to. It makes sense for me to try harder to find those people. That's the honest truth.

It's easy to forget how important it is to picture things working out, whether it is writing or running or anything else that is a challenge. At the end of this blog I will post a photo I recently took of my daughter when the family and I were out for one of our running and biking adventures. It doesn't always work out so well, but it is important to remember how much fun adventures can be. That's what keeps the spirit moving, hope and positive memories.

I will sign off with two paragraphs from some recent soul searching. I think that remembering what it was like when the spirit was willing is what I need to do.

Am I considering just cruising on everything, but not being great at anything? I’m not sure. That’s not really what I want. I want to be the best I can be. The best writer, runner, father, husband, teacher, …

Somehow, I believe that I can if my spirit is willing. The spirit sends me soaring down hills and up hills—through the miles that add up to a marathon, and the spirit sends me soaring through hundreds of thousands of words and leaves me longing to write thousands more. Have you ever come to 115,000 words and thought that you need another 115,000 more to really tell the whole story? That’s what happened to me, when the spirit was willing.


  1. Those are precious pictures! Those last two paragraphs were really meaningful. I believe the only way you can be the best you can be is when the spirit is willing. A hard challenge, indeed, at times.

  2. Wonderful post. I totally get how you feel about wanting to win. We know not everyone's going to like our stories, but that doesn't stop us from wanting the impossible.

    Hope your move goes well. Sounds like you've found a beautiful place to live.

    Lynnette Labelle

  3. My hubby runs marathons so my children made t-shirts that said, "my daddy is faster than your daddy". They get a lot of laughs at the finish line :)

    Good points here, though. I'm also a quasi-fan of Steven Covey and love the idea of having a variety of things that make up your life.

  4. Good luck on all your hurdles both physical and mental. It will all work together!

  5. From everything you said in this post, I'd say you have both spirit and endurance--and that, my friend, will see you to the finish line.
    I love those photos--they say it all.

  6. What a beautiful comparison to running! I'm happy to hear that you are excited to move. I hope it goes smoothly for you. I believe you have endurance. I feel it in your words and your spirit. It's there. Sometimes we just have to remember that the journey is what makes it all worth it. And oftentimes we get to a completely different destination than what we planned. Hope to hear from you next week after your move!

  7. I'm not really a runner, but the comparison makes all the sense in the world. It caused me to organize my thoughts about who I am and what I want to do.

    I am coming to the end of a career and the start of a new developmental period: redefining who I am. I am definitely embracing the tag on the end of my name (pqw) which stands for princess, queen, warrior. Thanks again.


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