One of my mentors, in the years before he won his Pulitzer and before he’d finished writing his first novel, said that writing a novel changes your brain chemistry. If he were not fastidiously groomed as usual that day, I would have imagined a grizzled beard and weary eyes based on the tone of his battle weary but proud voice in saying so.
I have, in the years since, anticipated and welcomed the change in my brain as I wrote my novel’s first draft. And I *could* feel my brain changing–I wasn’t sure if it was because of the years of work involved and the course of life wending its way alongside the writing, or if it was the writing itself; regardless, I knew the time spent on my novel was changing me. For the better–and for that fact alone, I would still be happy in the completion of my draft, even if it were not published, even if it were not read by anyone else in the world.
At times, the writing was slow going, and my brain felt rusty and resistant to change even if I wanted it; what could I do to help my brain accommodate the novel writing? In the world of athletics, athletes stretch to warm up, they consume foods that optimize their physical performance…what could I do to help my writing?
After reading Murakami’s book on running (the pleasant What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) , I learned that there is a way to prepare your brain for the landscape of endurance and long distance. According to Haruki Murakami, running is the best training for writing a novel.
It makes sense–a writer sits at a desk, every day in singleminded determination and focus to write words down until she assembles tens of thousands of words, if not hundreds of thousands of words that comprise a novel. It is a grueling feat of mental and physical endurance, one that, according to Murakami is “an act of manual labor,” one that requires “far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”
And so, inspired by Murakami’s statement that “most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running everyday,” I set out to run, first at an intermittent trot/walk of one mile distance, then working my way up to five kilometers and then beyond.
I have never been a runner. Running has had me gasping in pain my whole life, but I wanted to really try. For some people, exercise comes from a motivation to fit into a dress, others are motivated out of a drive to improve health–and I, I discovered, was motivated by a desire to improve my writing, no matter how far-fetched the connection. Plus, I had a hole in my heart that was only recently closed, and I was eager to try out my new heart on my new regimen that would change my brain and my writing.