Putting the Shoes On

Sometimes when it comes to writing, the most important thing is just putting the shoes on.

Let me explain.  It was the mid-eighties.  I had completed a graduate film writing program at Stanford and returned to L.A. to become a writer.  Only thing was I discovered I had a tiny, little problem: I hated writing.

I mean I didn’t really hate it, I just never seemed to get my ass in the chair to do it.   And writing was something I’d always loved.  Always.  I wrote a serialized series of stories about a young girl who stowed away on a ship in the 1800’s when I was nine without the benefit of a stitch of research!

But I had declared writing as my profession and that put stakes on the outcome of my work that I couldn’t handle.  I was afraid of failing.  I didn’t know back then that writing is all about failing… and then rewriting…and failing, ad nauseum.  I was a perfectionist in the worst sense of the word and it was killing me.

And I was beating myself up about it too.  How was I ever going to have a career in writing if I didn’t write?  

Then one day I had this idea.  I can’t tell you where it came from, it just struck me.  It was this:  If I hated writing so much, maybe if I took up something I hated even more, writing would seem easier in comparison.   (Aw, the 24-year-old mind.)

So I took up running.

I HATED running; hated with the ash-white heat of a billion suns.   It wasn’t that I didn’t like movement.  I’d loved ballet and gymnastics.  I took aerobic classes.  I biked, swam.  I just hated running.   I got shin splits.  I was easily winded.  I once took a fitness evaluation and was told I had the cardiovascular system of a 45-year- old.  I was 19.  When I was in middle school, I got a third degree burn the length of my arm that precluded me from P.E.  I was thrilled.  I didn’t have to run!

But it was the 80’s and running was big.  Everybody was doing it.  I bought magazines and read about people running a hundred and fifty miles a week and how they, mysteriously, were all losing their toenails.   Still, I set out to become a runner.  And I started by giving myself one single goal:  All I had to do was put on my running shoes.  That’s it.  If I tied them up, I was done for the day.

What I discovered was that once I went to the trouble of putting on the shoes (and the shorts and getting the water bottle and the Walkman with my fav mixed tape) I might as well get out there and do something.

I started by running around the block carrying three-pound weights.  (Carrying weights while running was also a thing.)  After a while I added another block.  Then another.  And still my only goal was putting on the shoes.

One day I decided to leave the weights at home.  Holy crap!  I felt as if I was flying.   With Power Supply pumping through my ears, I started to track my runs in miles, not blocks.   I started running across town to see my parents.  I ran Bay-To-Breakers in San Francisco with one hundred thousand other runners.  It was my longest distance.  Approximately 8.5 miles up and down hills.   I loved it.   I was a runner.

I know what you’re thinking…what about the writing?  Did taking up running work?

Yup.  Suddenly I found myself getting up at 4 a.m. to write before work.   I completed my first script and it landed me my first agent.  I was still a long way from starting my writing career, but I had moved the ball forward.  

As I look back, I don’t think it was conquering running that really did the trick.  I think it was the the “only had to put my shoes on” part.  It was learning to set the bar so astonishingly low that gave me the breathing room to write without expectation of outcome.

If you find you’re avoiding writing, lower the bar.  Maybe just firing up the laptop and opening a file is your goal and everything beyond that is a bonus.  Maybe just sitting at your desk for fifteen minutes.  The idea is to reduce expectations.  

Just put on the shoes.