Rise and Shine!

Looking for some inspiration to get out and run this morning? This oughtta do the trick:

As Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike says: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” And, at the risk of turning this blog into a giant billboard, here’s another of my favourite running shoe ads:

 

 

Polishing the Turd

Which is harder: running a 100-mile race, or writing a novel about it?

A lof of people have asked me this question.  I wasn’t sure how to answer it at first.  “Both nearly killed me!” I blurted out.

Now I have a more thoughtful answer. Both the race, and the book, caused me a TON of pain. But the race only lasted 24 hours. The book, on the other hand, took years to write.

Let me put it another way. A week after I ran the race, my body had recovered and I was bounding around like a gazelle. A week after I wrote the book, I was weeping inconsolably while I plowed through the first of thirteen rewrites.

What to do, what to do... (1)

Funny thing about pain though. Once it’s gone, you forget how much it hurt.

I’m working on my second novel now, and ERMAGHERD – why am I doing this to myself?

Writing a first draft is more painful than sitting through an Optimist Club luncheon. You have to create worlds, map out settings, shape plotlines, and stuff your characters full of strengths and flaws and anxieties and senses of humour. HARD!

Worst of all, when you finish the first draft, you’ll read it over and discover that it’s an 80,000 word turd.

marble

Okay, maybe that’s a bad choice of words. Let’s call it a hunk of marble instead. Either way, it’s massive chunk of verbiage that you’ll be chipping away at for the next two years, or roughly 1/50th OF YOUR LIFE.

Relax, Dave. Breathe deep. With luck, that turd block of marble will one day look like this:

Venus_de_Milo_Louvre_Ma399_n3

I finished the second draft of this novel in July. It was 64,000 words back then. Now, 4 months later, I’ve whittled it down to 54,000 words, and I’m hoping to cut 9,000 more before I’m done. With every sentence I delete, the manuscript gets leaner and better. Nothing makes me happier than a page that looks like this.

rewriting clockwatcher

Holy Trailballs it’s Winter Already!

Running has given me so much over the years.  My health, lots of crazy adventures, a clusterbomb of crazy friends. But running gave me another life-changing gift – one I hadn’t thought much about until today.

cropped-david-half-marathon-peterborough-2008.jpg

Years ago, before I took up running, I was one of those people who hated winter.  I spent five months of every year feeling vaguely depressed, and waiting for April to roll around.

Today it’s minus fifteen outside the cabin. Six inches of hard-pack snow lie on the ground. A howling northerly whips ice pellets through the forest, so of course I think: Time for a run!

I pull my tights over my long-johns. Yank on two pairs of thermal socks, then my Nikes. Compression top, followed by 3 dry-wick jerseys. Running jacket with drawstring hoodie. Two hats, one neck-warmer, one MEC neoprene face-shield, lobster claw gloves.

I step outside into the howling gale. Run down the concession, straight into the wind. The snow rises up like sheets of vinyl siding, and pours through the woodlots in dry white rivers. Ice pellets hit my forehead like they’ve been fired from a staple gun and then they’re welded to my eyelashes like pebbled glass.

I run on a mountain bike trail named HolyFBalls. It’s a brute at the best of times, and the snow only makes it tougher. And yet – wrapped in my cocoon of synthetic fibres, I feel the bodychoke of winter, but not its cold bite. The world looks more beautiful than a brand new iPhone, and instead of feeling depressed, my heart explodes like a confetti cannon.

Around the bends

This is the greatest thing running gave me. It coated my heart with crystal water. It made me love winter.

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.

Who told Tyler Heggie about my book?

Truth is stranger than fiction. Younger too.

Recently I wrote a novel about a 13 year-old who runs a 100-mile ultra-marathon. I know what you’re thinking: No WAY could a kid do that!

Wrong! An 11 year-old just ran 273 km – all the way across Prince Edward island!

Tyler Heggie

Tyler Heggie

Prince Edward Islander, Tyler Heggie, spent seven days running the island from tip to tip.  He covered the equivalent of a marathon each day, running with family and friends along the Confederation Trail.

Heggie did it to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis research (his Mom was diagnosed with M.S. two years ago).

Heggie finishing his run with friends

Heggie finishing his run with friends

Heggie has run long distances before. At age 9, he successfully competed in the Charlottetown marathon. Later this fall, he’s scheduled to run the marathon in Toronto – where roughly 20,000 fans (including me!) will be lined up to meet him.

Inch by Inch it’s a Cinch

A friend recently wrote this on her Facebook wall: Need advice on how to balance 9-5 job with creative projects. 

Trestle bridge

The comments rained down. Kill your TV, get a housekeeper, lose the social life, sleep less.

I thought this: Any self-respecting creative project won’t give you any choice. It’ll hijack your life all on its own.

I know this first-hand. My last creative project (a middle grade novel called “Ultra”) picked me up by the ankles and shook me upside down until 45,000 words came tumbling out.

It was exciting to be swallowed up by the project, but it left me feeling pretty queasy. My little “creative project” informed me, in no uncertain terms, what aspects of my life were priorities, and which aspects needed to be discarded.

There was only one priority. Namely, the novel. Absolutely everything else (family, friends, relationship, wardrobe, personal cleanliness, Game of Thrones) got jettisoned.

I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m still apologising to my wife for that 12-month stretch when I went AWOL.

I love you (again)

There is a better way, of course. If you want to lead a creative life and still keep your job and hang out with your friends and family and children from time to time, the best approach is to play the long game.  Don’t try to paint or write or dance or strum or quilt a masterpiece in a month or two. Instead, scratch out a few minutes, here and there, whenever you can. Every single day. And then – don’t stop.

If you’re a writer, try to write one page per day. That might not sound like a lot, but if you do it religiously, you’ll have an entire book by year’s end.

(True story: I know a writer who keeps a writing pad in the car, so she can jot down ideas in 15 second bursts, whenever she hits a red light.)

It’s like exercising. Experts recommend that we get 45 minutes of physical activity per day, a minimum of 3 days per week. That’s not a lot – barely 2% of the week. And yet if we do it religiously, it’s enough to dramatically transform our lives.

On the road

Photo hat tip: big brother Andy.

This Girl is Six!

People tell me that running 100 miles is crazy. “It’s impossible!” they say.

Yes it is – almost.

But somewhere along the way, I must’ve decided that I wanted to accomplish the impossible, so I went out and tackled that suckah to the ground.

You can do the same thing. Not run 100 miles necessarily. But each one of us is capable of something extraordinary. The trick is to figure out what it is, and then go after it.

Like this girl, Terry, the flyest 6 year-old dancer around. She’s a b-girl prodigy:

Do the world a favour and watch the whole three minutes. If you don’t have time, be sure to check out the handstands at 1:35 and the head spins at 2:28. And remember: this girl is six!

 

Real Life Superheroes, Part 2

Take a look at the runners in these pictures.  Can you tell what makes them all special?

First, there’s America’s Dick Beardsley (on the left):

Dick+Beardsley+and+Inge+Simonsen+finish+the+London+Marathon+together.+Horace+Culter+of+the+Greater+London+council+one+of+the+men+who+made+this+race+possible+watches+on+in+the+background

Up next, Spain’s Fernandez Anaya (in green):

o-FERNANDEZ-ANAYA-570

And finally, Ohio track star Meghan Vogel (blonde hair, on the right):

Meghan Vogel

Any guesses?  Yes, they’re all runners, and yes, they’re crazy fit.  They probably run 100+ miles a week and eat nothing but salads and nuts.  But these incredibly healthy human specimens have something much more interesting – and much more valuable – in common.

You’ve got fifteen seconds to figure it out.  Tick tick tick tick tick…TIME’S UP!

ANSWER: All of these runners are real-life superheroes.  They’re not only fast.  They’re also super kind.

Take Meghan Vogel.  She was competing in her third race of the day.  Ahead of her, a runner crumpled to the ground in the heat.  But instead of dashing past her, she lifted her up, helped her to the finish line, and literally pushed her across the finish line.

Fernandez Anaya (the guy in the green shirt) was equally generous.  He was running second in his race, a ways behind the race leader, Abel Mutai.  As he entered the finishing straight, Fernandez noticed Mutai pull up about 10 metres before the finish line.  Mutai thought he’d crossed the finish line, BUT HE HADN’T!  He still had 30 feet left to go!

Instead of racing past Mutai for the win, Fernandez slowed down and gestured at him to keep running.  He literally helped the OTHER guy win.

Which brings me to the black and white photo of Dick Beardsley at the top.  Dick was running the very first London marathon in 1981.  He and Norway’s Inge Simonsen spent the race battling for first place.  In the finishing stretch, instead of trying to prove who was better than the other, the athletes clasped hands and crossed the finish line together.

How awesome is that?  They acknowledged they were evenly matched, and split the first place prize two ways.

Someone should show these videos to Lance Armstrong.

The Re-write Blues

Rewriting a novel is like arriving at your new apartment right after the movers have dropped off all your stuff. Everything you need is in that huge mountain of boxes, only you have no idea where.

packing boxes

Yikes.

Making matters worse, your apartment is full of odd-shaped rooms. Where will the sectional look best? What about the treadmill?

You want to move the credenza into the living room, but you sense it’s too wide, and you’ll just end up dragging it back to the bedroom.

And that’s only one of a hundred items. It’s very easy to feel defeated.

There’s only one way to get started: grab a box and start unpacking. What that box is finished, grab another. And then another. And then another.

Eventually, you’ll figure out where everything belongs. And your rooms will fill up and begin looking like home.

Trust the process.  Trust yourself.

Writing is my AEIOU and Sometimes Y

Note to self: kids are really smart.

Case in point.  The other day I got interviewed by a grade 10 student.  He needed to dissect a living writer for a class project, and somehow, poor guy, he got saddled with me.  We went for a coffee, and then I dragged him into a radio studio  (the same studio, I should add, where the fabled literary broadcaster, Eleanor Wachtel, conducts all of her interviews).  The student pulled out his iPhone, pressed record, and placed it on the desk between us. He asked me some very good questions – about writing, working in the field of journalism, how much education is needed to get a job in broadcasting, and how to build a career as a fiction writer.

He gave me a real grilling.  And then, near the end of our discussion, he asked me this: “Knowing what you know now, if you had to go back and do it all over again, would you still set out to be a fiction writer?”

OMG.  He had me.  I froze.

As a seasoned interviewer, I usually love moments like this.  The moment when a question hits the bulls-eye, and you can see your guest squirming, because he or she has secretly been asking him or herself the exact same question – possibly for years.

What to do, what to do... (1)

If I had to go back and do it again, would I still set out to become a fiction writer?  I had to hand it to the student – his random drilling had hit a geyser.

“Do you want me to be completely honest?” I asked.

The student grinned from ear to ear.  “Of course,” he said.

No way, I thought to myself, I’d avoid writing like the plague.  It’s nothing but an endless road of pain!  

Want proof?  I wrote my first novella more than 2 decades ago.  It never got published.  Neither did the two novels I wrote after that.   And of the 100+ short stories I composed after that, only a handful made it to print.

NO, DAVE.  BE HONEST.  3 GOT PUBLISHED.  ONLY 3.  And the money I earned from them didn’t even cover the cost of the printer ink and stamps!

If someone had sat me down back in 1990 and done the calculus; if they’d explained how hard I’d have to work, how many hours of sleep I’d lose, how much my arteries would harden, how awkward I’d feel each time a friend asked how my book was coming along…  If someone had told me all that two decades ago, would I still have gone into writing?  No, probably not.  You’d have to be crazy to embrace a career like that.

It’s one of the great mercies of the universe that I didn’t know the odds I was facing when I started out.  This isn’t limited to writing.  If any of us truly knew how much heartache was in store for us, we’d never do anything.  If we knew how hard it would be to maintain relationships, we’d never allow ourselves to fall in love.  If my parents had warned me about the skinned knees I’d get while learning to ride a bike, I never would’ve let them take my training wheels off.

Signs of spring

I still hadn’t answered the student’s  question.  Sensing my difficulty, he shifted gears.  “How about this,” he said at last,  “what has writing given you?”

The question was a relief, and I was flooded with good memories.  I started rhyming off the list: writing gave me a purpose in life, it gave me the career I now enjoy, it helps pay my mortgage, it stills my mind during stressful times.

Writing is my sun and my moon.  It is my breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is my AEIOU and sometimes Y.

And in spite of all those rejections I mentioned earlier, writing eventually did make my dream come true.

Ultra cover