Don’t Let the Path Beat You Down

“If you don’t get off the beaten path, then the path has beaten you.”

I didn’t write that line. My dear friend, and radio celebrity, Brent Bambury, wrote it for a radio show we created together many years ago. I remembered the sentiment this morning, after glancing at my lame-o running log:

Uninspired Training log page

Sigh. Between the polar vortexes and the icy sidewalks, my running routine has become as boring as the Oscars. Each day I take the same route to get to work. And then I take the same route home.

I call it the work-home axis. And lately it’s become a very deep trench.

Contrast it with the running I was doing last summer:

Inspired Training log page

Now, that was a fun week of running!

If you want to be a good runner (or a good writer for that matter), you need variety. Jogging on the same stretch of sidewalk every day isn’t only dull, it’s not all that great for your body. Sure, you’ll work a few muscles in your legs and core, but over time, other muscles will turn to Jell-o from disuse. We need to exercise all the parts of our bodies – abs, shoulders, chest, back, and especially our brains! I’m not saying we all need to join a gym. There are lots of easy ways of getting active. Help a friend move and lift some boxes, go to a yoga class, or spend a few hours hauling kids up your nearest tobogganing hill.

Here’s what I just did to shake up my routine:

Coss Country skiing

Photo credit: Shawna Watson

There aren’t a lot of things I like more than running, but strapping huge fiberglass planks to my feet, and throwing myself down icy slopes at wholly unimaginable speeds is right up there.  Totally yanked me out of my mid-winter funk! And afterwards, I got to write this in my log:

Training log - skiing

You Don’t Have to be Great to Start…

I’ve been spending so much time lately going BLAH BLAH BLAH about running, I thought I should say a word about writing. After all, if there’s one thing I do more than run, it’s write. True story: after spending 8 hours writing for work, and another two or three hours on my novel, how do you suppose I like to relax in the evenings?

No, I do not yarnbomb neighbourhood stop signs with leg warmers. Instead, I chill out by writing in my journal.

I caught the writing bug early. When I was nine, I started cranking out a weekly newspaper. It had a circulation of 5: my mom, my dad, my two brothers and me.  It looked like this:

weekend household paper 1

It was called The Weekend Household Paper. I wrote it because I was bored. And it’s a good thing too. If I hadn’t been bored enough to write that newspaper, I might never have started keeping a journal.

journals stacked

Just a few of the hundreds of journals I’ve filled over the years. Here are more, stuffed into a steamer trunk:

journals in trunk

I didn’t write anything brilliant in those journals.  Usually I just wrote about the weather, or what me and my friends were getting up to on our bikes. From time to time, I’d write a short story. And it’s a good thing I did. If I hadn’t written those short stories I wouldn’t have had anything to send out to highbrow literary magazines.

rejection letter 3

I have hundreds of rejection letters like that one. Each one of them stung, but they also taught me something important. They taught me that if I really wanted to get published, I’d have to work harder. Much harder.

So I bought a high-tech laptop computer –

Tandy computer

And set about writing 3 mediocre novels.

my 3 bad novels

There they are. They all got rejected too. And it’s a good thing they did. If they hadn’t, I never would have gotten depressed and applied to the CBC for a real job – a job writing comedy shows and game shows and dressing up in funny outfits.

Me in headset

I wasn’t a great writer when I started at CBC, but a half million people were tuning in to the show I was working on, so I had no choice – I had to get better. And it’s a good thing I did, because (A) I got to keep my job, and (B) when a good idea for a novel finally occurred to me, I had enough writing experience to write it half decently…

writing floating island story

That’s me, working on my second book, which I’m hoping will get published in another year or two. Some days I’m not so sure, though. Even though I’ve been writing for years, my first drafts always look like crap. Here’s a page I worked on last night:

Copy of rewrite - floating island

I rewrote my first novel 11 times. I expect my second will take at least as much work, if not more.

Happily, with every rewrite, the story gets better. And it’s always worth it when you cross the finish line. (YESSSSS! Managed to sneak in a running reference after all!)

first copy of Ultra

Remember: You don’t have to be great to start.  But you have to start to be great.

Boredom is Good for You

It’s a dream come true, having a novel published.  Ever since I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to write.

But listen: It never would have happened if I hadn’t spent years being bored.

For instance.  When I was nine years old, I started cranking out a weekly newspaper.  It had a circulation of 5: my mom, my dad, my two brothers and me.  It looked like this:

weekend household paper 1

Why did I write this weekly rag?  Because I was bored!  We didn’t have a computer or the internet back then, so I had to write the whole thing out by hand.

Not many news stories happened inside our house, so I had to make most of them up.

weekend household paper 3

There was a big cloud of smoke and the robbers were gone!!!!!

In addition to being a budding journalist, I also wanted to work in radio.  One Christmas, Santa Claus brought me a toy record player.  I immediately constructed a make-believe radio station in our basement.  I named the station C.H.O.W., and to my family’s immense pleasure I spun a lot of records by Supertramp, the Bee Gees, the Electric Light Orchestra, and yes, the Carpenters.

64683_10151384523493488_1789612412_n

I set the radio station up beneath the hot air vent, so that the music would carry all through the house.  I had to yell so everyone could hear me introducing the songs.

That changed when I got another present for my birthday:

Mr. Microphone turned me into a REAL broadcaster.  The signal carried ten metres in all directions, so you could hear me as far away as Mom and Dad’s bedroom (if you tuned your radio to 90.1 FM)!  I hosted a weekly chart show, and semi-regular newscasts in which I read the made-up news stories I’d written in the Weekend Household Paper.

Why am I telling you this?  Because sometimes you may feel bored.  I hope you do, because BOREDOM IS THE BEST THING EVER!  If I hadn’t been bored as a kid, I never would have written that newspaper, or set up that radio station.  And if I hadn’t done that, I might not be an author or a radio producer today.

So don’t be afraid of getting bored.  Instead, use that boredom to figure out what it is you love to do.  If you’re lucky, later on, you won’t have to chase after your dream career.  Instead, maybe it’ll come chasing after you.