Saturday, 11 May 2013

Here tomorrow, gone today

I'm pleased. I managed to come up with a nifty title for my blog today.

I'm even more pleased. I have a little bit of an idea of what I might actually write about.

It's something I've seen mentioned over and over in the world of independent publishing: it's a marathon, not a sprint. That's all very well, but sometimes I wonder how long the race is meant to last. 

I have to admit, I'm quite partial to sprinting. I'm actually a pretty quick runner. Or at least I was, back in my younger days. To be honest, I couldn't tell you the last time I broke into a serious run (although recently I have had a few races to try and catch a tram, and I can tell you I was seriously pooped afterwards).

But I understand the whole marathon vs sprint thing. We can't expect to be overnight successes. It takes a lot of time and work (and most likely luck) to get yourself to the pinnacle of writing success. The question I have is, how long is that marathon meant to last?

It seems that for some people, the marathon is substantially longer than for others.  Take as examples some of my favourite writers. Douglas Adams is a good case in point. When Hitch-hikers guide came out, he seemed to become a big writing star out of the blue. But if you look closely at the biography on his book blurbs, and all the different jobs he had done, you realise that it didn't just happen overnight. There was more than a bit of work before it finally did.

Another case is Kafka. On the surface, not much like Adams, though both did find different ways to write about the absurd. Kafka didn't get famous during his (short) lifespan. It was only after his death that a friend published the manuscripts (after being told to destroy them). Now, of course, they're recognised as true classics.

I guess what this is saying is there are marathons and marathons. Some have an end point that is further away than others. And if you know anything about the origins of the word, you know that Pheidippides, the original marathon runner, dropped dead as soon as he had completed his great run.

I don't want that to be me. I'm more than happy to do the hard yards, and I like the idea of producing something with lasting worth. But I also want to make it to the finish line - and last a bit longer after that too. I don't want to be here tomorrow, gone today.

Hope you all have a good run too. 


  1. There are certain books and films that stay with you for all your life. One of these is Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It’s actually only a short story but the material was stretched to make a film and a very good film it was too. I was never a long distance runner at school. I was an asthmatic and 200m was my limit but I excelled at the 100m; I was actually the fastest in the school. In the story running is a metaphor for several things but one of these is writing.

    Sillitoe uses running in his story as a means of isolation. Running is a solitary action and therefore allows Smith to begin to understand and become aware of the class divisions in England. Smith the narrator of the story is also a writer and he is an allegoric version of Sillitoe and the isolation that all authors suffer from. Smith is a solitary runner who gets political clarity through running and isolation, just as an author writes alone and thinks alone. The long distance runner and the writer are both individualistic and isolated so that they are able to produce their commodities. The metaphor used to compare both the author and the runner is similar to the author losing his purity when he publishes a work just as Smith loses his purity when he enters the race. – Wikipedia

    There’s running and there’s racing. There is a difference. In a race the whole point of running is winning. That’s not the whole point to running and the same applies to writing. We didn’t start off writing to get published (at least I didn’t) and then one day we found ourselves in a race and (for me at least) that’s slightly sullied the writing. I used to write purely for me and if other people got anything out of what I wrote then whoopy-do. Now when I think about writing I find myself considering a potential future audience and that’s not so much fun anymore.

    1. I'm with you. Except to be honest I like the idea of a finish line. I don't think I could just run and run for no reason.

  2. I think it depends on what you're trying to "win." It honestly never occurs to me (or rarely does, mostly because I already know it doesn't work for me) to try to write to market in order to "win" something (more readers? more money? both?). So it's kind of a strange combination of the two scenarios being outlined. I don't think there's an end point, not for me, anyway, but I have goals along the path...the biggest one being that I continue to be able to do this full time, and not have to get a corporate job I despise because I can't make enough off the writing to live. But honestly, that's not the "finish line" for me. I have multiple goals beyond that one, that's just the most basic, fundamental one, and is *probably* attainable, if I keep working and finishing things and putting them out into the ether. I do want to get better as a writer too, and that's not an "end point" type thing either, so I don't see that one going away at any time, either, even if I keep this up for another thirty or forty years.

    That being said, I understand the fear I'm reading in this, Jonathan...which is sort of the underlying question, when is enough enough? I would imagine we all ask ourselves that question at different points, (I sure know I have), but I always come back to the question, "What else would I do? Do I really have any other options?" For me, the answer is no, not really. I'm going to write regardless. I'm (hopefully) going to keep gradually getting better, the more I write. Really, my only path, apart from becoming some kind of bitter bar rat is to just keep doing what I'd doing, and not think too much about the finish point at all, since I know it's not coming. In terms of the goals part, I only really think about those when I have to at this point, too (meaning, if I'm faced with having to pay the rent, etc.).

    Otherwise, yeah, marathon or sprint is kind of irrelevant. I'm stuck. So if you ask yourself if you'd write anyway, regardless, then it's sort of a moot point? I don't know if that comforts you or not, but it tends to keep my head from exploding, trying to decide when it's time to "give up on this writing business," because I realize, yeah, well that's not REALLY going to happen either, other than as a kind of psychological slight of hand.

    1. Hi JC,

      Thanks for the comment. I think the fear is to do with having so many things you want to do and seeing more of your life spent sitting at a desk at work not doing them - and of course that's not just about the writing.