Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guest Blog by Mark Parsons

Hi, guys! Mark here, filling in for Wendelin as she takes care of some pressing writing biz. Since the primary themes here are running and writing, that’s what we’ll discuss. Running first… We’re now three weeks out from the inaugural Santa Barbara International Marathon (where “Team ETRTR” will cheerfully be representing Exercise the Right to Read!) so this morning we did our final ‘long run’ before we start to taper. Today’s run was a 20-miler, but it was relatively civilized, all things considered. Our previous long run, however, was another story. It was a hot day and we’d headed inland. Big mistake. The heat and attendant dehydration took its toll, and it ended up being more of a death-march than the fun little jaunt it should have been. So this morning we stuck near the coast (perfect weather – clear and 60 degrees out), took plenty of hydration breaks, and set a good, moderate pace that we could maintain over the distance. (Correct pacing is everything! Okay, except for a decent training program. And pre-run nutrition. And fueling and hydration during the run. And rest & recovery afterwards. But other than that, trust me, pacing is everything!) SO… all of the above-mentioned factors made today’s trot a much more pleasant experience, and we’re feeling good about the upcoming marathon. We’ll post a short ETRTR video update after event (similar to what we did for the San Francisco Marathon a few months back). And now writing… Wendelin’s been discussing her writing process here lately, and the short story here is that—while not identical—my process is pretty similar. Like her, I’m a huge believer that much of the real creative stuff actually has its beginnings in the subconscious, and the best thing you can do as a writer is to facilitate the delivery. It seems that often, great ideas come bubbling up when you’re otherwise occupied in some semi-mindless task. (Running is great for this. So is driving. And standing in the shower—especially after a long run—is about as good as it gets…) And contrary to some conventional wisdom, I’m also a big believer that talking about writing ideas can do a lot to “unstick” the creative process. My theory on this is that talking uses a different part of your brain, and verbalizing your thoughts allows you to access this otherwise-unused part of the mind. Wendelin and I frequently “talk plot” on long car trips, and it’s helped us both immensely. One area where Wendelin and I differ, however, is that she has learned to really love the rewriting process. I enjoy it somewhat (and certainly recognize its value) but perhaps I’m less evolved than she is (I’m a dude, after all) because I still prefer the “oh yeah!” moment of initial creation over the incremental improvements of repeated revisions. It occurred to me today (probably because I’m in the middle of a revision) that writing—at least, writing for publication—is actually a collaborative process. Which seems strange, because writing is often thought of as a solo creative effort. But between your initial manuscript and that shiny new book on the bookstore shelf stands something very important—an editor. And a good editor does a lot more than acquire projects and do all the admin stuff and schedule the various steps of the process like a corporate Project Manager. Good editors also edit. (Well, they do all that other stuff too, but they’re called editors for a reason.) I used to tell Wendelin she was lucky, because at least she got to see (and revise) the various editings of the various editors who have edited her various works before they went to print. I used to write primarily non-fiction, and frequently in non-fiction you send off the manuscript and don’t see it again until its edited version is on the pages of a book or magazine. So that’s sort of a one-way collaboration (which I guess isn’t really much of a collaboration at all, is it?). But with fiction, you send off your manuscript and get back (at least initially, way before the copy-editing stage) comments as to how the story might be tightened up and improved. And that’s where I am today—trying to incorporate an editor’s suggestions into my manuscript. And if the ideas were contrary to what I was trying to say in the story (or just plain lousy) then I could brush them aside and be done with it, one way or the other. But this editor is a very good one, and I can tell that her comments will make it a stronger book in the long run. But you can’t just tack things on with glue and duct tape, or you’ll end up with a literary version of Frankenstein’s monster. It requires many small additions, subtractions, and “smoothing over” of the transitions so that there are no obvious scars. So in keeping with our monster metaphor, what you want instead is more like perfect plastic surgery, which by definition should be both an improvement and unnoticeable. (Which it rarely is, by the way, which is where the simile falls apart. But you get the idea…) So here I am, hopefully learning to “love the process” as much as my wonderful wife does! And really, I’m only too happy to have the opportunity to make the revisions myself (rather than finding out what the editor’s done only by reading the finished product). So yes, it’s really a back-and-forth collaborative effort, and if done right the final result is better than it could have been any other way. That’s my take on it…

7 comments:

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Thank you for filling in for me, and for giving your perspective. I agree with everything (hello? what? me? yes!) except (ah, there it is) that 20 miles could ever be a fun little jaunt. But it's your entry so I won't say a word about it. :-)

Jinnyd said...

Speaking of running... I've been wondering about the, um, mechanics of running. Like is there some special running posture or something (because every time we have to run a mile for P.E. class I always feel like I'm wasting energy).

Is there anything like that?

Levina said...

Here's what helps me:
I pace myself. Jog at a steady pace until you can't run anymore, then speedwalk for a while and start up again when you've caught your breath. Also try thinking about something other than how tired you are! Running is mostly brain power. If you tell yourself you can't do it, chances are it'll harder for you to do it!

But that's what I do :) Try asking a lot of people.

Mark Parsons said...

Jinnyd - Actually, there is a ton of info available on running mechanics. (Try runningmechanics.com for starters.)

Some basics that have helped me: Try to achieve a smooth, flowing stride... Relax your shoulders (don't hunch)... Make sure your arms are moving forward and back (not side-to-side)... Breathe from your belly (don't pant or take short choppy breaths from the top of your lungs)... Try to breathe in time with your stride, if possible (i.e. inhale for two steps and exhale for two)... And like Levina said, try to work at a steady pace that you can maintain over the planned distance of the run.

Overall, the key word here is relax. Try not to make every run a race. (It might be helpful to run outside of P.E., where there's no pressure to perform at any sort of preferred pace.)

Good luck, and keep in mind that this all gets MUCH easier once you've done it for a while. So, hang in there! :-)

Jinnyd said...

Thanks for all the suggestions! I'll definitely try them out.

One more question, though: when running, is it better to breath through your nose or your mouth?

Mark Parsons said...

Hi, Jinnyd -

Definitely the mouth, both on the inhale and the exhale. Don't worry about "warming the air", or swallowing bugs, or any other theory put forth by non-runners. The name of the game here is oxygen delivery, and the best way to accomplish that is through the mouth - the nose is simply too restrictive to allow enough air in to facilitate any serious amount of running. (However, those little nasal passages work just fine for blowing your nose on the run, but that's a topic best left for another time!) LOL...

Keep on running! :-D

Levina said...

Yes, keep going! It's very healthy.