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Shedding Skin

 

 

 

 

August 1, 2020

A few days ago I had followers on my instagram page ask me questions to answer for this blog entry. Below are my top-three questions (with answers), and additional bonus question…

Q) How did you go about writing your book, and getting the deal to publish it?

Spending over 20 years as a competitive distance runner definitely trained me for writing novels.

Seriously.

Back when I lived like a monk and trained like crazy, my days were spent pleasing the running gods by filling my daily quota of miles. Every last mile had to be run so the overall week’s total would be hit.

I wrote Boulder Dreams with the same dedication, only I replaced the mileage quota with a word quota.

What seemed to be a suitable quota for the day was 2,000 words. Some days this came easy — I’d hit the mark in less than half an hour. My fingers would dance over the keyboard with ease. Other days, it was like running uphill. But the goal remained, and I couldn’t leave the story until the quota was filled.

Some writers will use the phrase “stay in the room,” but I’ll admit, that didn’t always work for me. Sometimes I had to leave the room, go for a short run or walk — I needed to move. Then I’d come back to fill the day’s quota.

I couldn’t fully let my mind stop until I hit 2,000 words. So, even I was eating lunch or walking on some trail, my mind was trying to figure out the next line, which I hoped would break the dam and let the words flow once more. Physically I may have been temporarily elsewhere, but my mind was still in the room. One way this was made possible was not only by making time to write, but making time before writing to get bored — to think.

You have to create space for creativity to happen.

I’ll paraphrase Charles Bukowski here — “Don’t try to write. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. You wait for it to come to you.”

I find his approach to writing very similar to mine.

Back in the day I used to sit at my desk and try to find the words. But over the years I’ve come to understand how I can get to that place of sheer creativity a little faster, and it’s always by creating some space beforehand — creating room for the words to come to me.

I like to think they’re always floating above my head, and I’m trying to catch them. The moment I stop trying to catch them they flutter a little closer, and soon they’re within reach, and they come down to me and find their way onto my page. It’s like taming a wild beast, really.

And then there’s getting published…

What most aspiring novelists do not understand or know is that writing the novel is really half the battle. It’s difficult to write something knowing that it may never see the light of day, particularly when it’s over 60,000 words — that’s a lot of time to spend on something.

It’s like training for a race you may never get to run — like this past spring for most athletes…

For me, it took two separate “stints” spanning a year. But if I throw away the many months I didn’t write a word (I couldn’t wrap my head around it while covering cross country meets or indoor track), it probably took me about six weeks to write Bolder Dreams.

So, if writing a novel is one challenge, the other is finding a suitable publisher for it. And I’ll go ahead and say what every other writer before me has said: prepare for rejection, because you’ll get a lot of it.

Of the two novels I’ve completed, I’ve received nearly 90 rejection letters.

The reality is that the more query letters you send out, the higher the possibility that you’ll find someone who wants to publish you. A local author once told my creative writing class that there’s a publisher for every story, it’s just about finding the one that works for you. I had to remind myself of this every time I got a “it isn’t for us” email.

But again, it’s a lot like running — if you’re not racing as fast as you want, you go back to the drawing board, and you keep training. Eventually you’ll pop a good one.

Persistence.

It really is that simple. It’s enduring, but worth it.

Q) What made you stop running for a long stint? What made you get back?

A combination of injury and writing.

Sort of. 

I’ve had a nagging achilles injury since 2012. 25 laps around the track at Mt. SAC nearly sealed my eventual departure from track races. Two miles in I felt (what I’m assume now) a slight tear in my achilles, but limped on to finish. Since then it’s never been the same.

And it sort of coincided with my writing — in my short stints off from training to rehab and get back I began writing more, which opened up quite a few doors.

Plagued with injury, I shifted my focus to other things that I’ve always been interested in — mostly within the arts and music.(In another life I was a drummer for a rock band…) Running seemed to just always take the center-stage since I found early success in it. But sidelined, I finally had an “out” to pursue other things.

When I took the position as the Sports Editor for the Gunnison Times I was in a bit of a transition. I still wanted to run — I’ve always enjoyed it. But I finally found myself in a career I always wanted. I was coming to the realization that my body couldn’t handle the 100+ mile weeks that were so common during my 20s anymore. My achilles just wouldn’t allow for much faster work, so, I opted to go up — way up — in distance, for kicks.

I (under) trained for the inaugural Grand Traverse — a 40 mile trek from Crested Butte to Aspen. The slower running was easier on my achilles. As grueling as it was, I finished — that was the goal.

I learned a lot in that race too.

Somewhere above 12,000 feet, woozy from the altitude and fatigued from the 30 miles behind me, I began asking myself what the purpose of this was. Why was I running?

The conclusion that I came to on that day was that the purpose that got me running in the first place was not the same as it was in that moment, or had been in years.

It had shifted.

I still had passion to run, though it wasn’t a competitive-passion anymore. I felt more purpose in story-telling than in running. I had more legs in my ability to write rather than run.

That was the last race I competed in — in 2014.

What I learned in that race resonated forward. I came to the conclusion that I was content with what I had done on the track, trails, and roads as a runner, and that I could give more of myself with a pen. I shifted my focus to how I could positively impact the world around me, and it wasn’t running anymore, it was as a writer — a storyteller.

So, my pseudo-departure from competitive running was quite soft. I simply decided to focus on other things. Additionally I found the well of water that feeds the passion to run is the same one that feeds the passion to write. And when I’d dip into one, it took from the other.

Weeks off from running turned to months. I never went more than three or four months without running a few miles, but there was wasn’t any real consistency to it.

Then I took over as the Editor for MileSplit Colorado.

Covering races from the sidelines every Saturday was just too motivating. I couldn’t help it. Seeing athletes push their limits reminded me of what it felt like for me to push mine. And while that wasn’t exactly a comforting thought, I did miss what it felt like to simply cruise. Just to run. Feel that rhythm where everything connects and flows in one direction at the same time.

Plus, I felt for a writer to best describe how a race unfolded, I would need to understand the dimensions of the course. I needed to know what it did to the legs and the mind. This inevitably led to the decision to set Bolder Dreams in Colorado.

I decided the story would take place on actual courses run by high school athletes. So, last fall I discreetly began running each course to better understand how each race played out. I even ran the state meet course at Penrose the day before the race.

So, I’ve actually been quietly running for a while now — just not training. I define training as running with a physical goal. I run now more for my head, and always with the focus on enhancing my writing.

Running is more of a meditation now. It’s what clears my head. Perhaps I’m fortunate (?) not to live near a beach, otherwise I’d be surfing instead. It’s more about flow than anything.

I don’t keep track of miles, but I loosely keep track of minutes — mostly so I can figure out what my body will allow me to do. If my achilles flares up I pull back. I’m really just running as much as my body allows, and nothing more. I have no real reason to push my limits — I feel that I did enough of that back in the day…

It’s funny in a way, because I don’t feel old in my head, but my body clearly still feels all the mileage from my 20s. I rarely run without some ache or pain, which is only helped with a ton of yoga.

Q) Do you still listen to Incubus for inspiration?

Totally.

Brandon Boyd is an incredible artist — and that goes beyond his musical and lyrical talents. He’s an incredible painter as well. I draw inspiration in how he embodies his art. He has a very creative perception of the world, and it reminds me to look at everything as fluid.

Additionally he (and Incubus) are always trying to do things different — like renting out houses in different parts of the world to record albums. This way they’re in a different state of mind and can create something new.

I do this with my writing.

Sometimes when I catch myself doing the same thing over and over I change where I’m writing, or the time of day, just to get something different out of me. It’s easy to repeat yourself. It’s hard to do something different. But in doing something different you’re creating something new — and that’s an incredible feeling.

(Radiohead/Thom Yorke/Jonny Greenwood have become huge inspirations as well.)

That Incubus Morning View album is still one of my favorites — particularly “Aqueous Transmission.”

Q) What is your favorite type of sandwich?

I’m not much of a sandwich guy (I’m more into salads), but when I do eat a sandwich… It’s honey wheat bread, with turkey and sliced colby jack cheese from the deli.

July 23, 2020

Red.

Everywhere.

It was as I had been knifed, and my blood was splattered across the now-edited pages.

As if the pages weren’t stained with my blood already.

Okay, so that’s a little gory, and not accurate in any way. But it’s what looking at your manuscript feels like when you receive the first round of edits. Any hint of red makes you perk up in the same way a child perks up when they hear that high-pitched melody of the ice-cream truck echoing down the street.

What was changed?

Over and over and over again. And then when you read it though, there’s an exhale in thought.

Ohhh, okay… That works better…

And then the frustration sinks in.

How could I miss this?

Plot hole…

This is horrible writing.

Over. And over. And over, again.

Editing. Yeah. Write a book they said. It’ll be fun they said. Ok, so no one said that. In fact every meme I’ve ever found in reference to editing makes it look like pulling your nails out and placing them bloodied and all on the coffee table. Then adding your teeth so you can make a necklace.

Art.

Editing a novel of over 60,000 words is grueling — it’s one thing to let your fingers dance freely along the keyboard, and something else entirely to read those words — One. By. One. Then a complete sentence. Then a paragraph. Then a page. Then a chapter.

Then the whole book.

It’s like coloring aimlessly on a page, then coming back in attempts to frame those scribblings into some semblance of shapes to make sense. And then — and then — ask yourself: Does this work? Does everyone else see the shape of the elephant or the monkey like I do?

The process forces you to truly own every word and line in your book. But this process isn’t entirely new to me.

In fact, what’s helped was working at a newspaper — when you’ve got 20 inches of copy to fill, you really look at every word to make sure it’s useful. Otherwise, cut it. Throw it away. Slice and dice — you’ve only got 20 inches to work with.

But 20 inches is 20 inches.

A novel of over 60,000 words stretches to 250-ish pages. 20 inches of newspaper copy is perhaps a page and a half. Maybe.

The word meticulous comes to mind. And it’s easier to be meticulous when you’re stopping at every word for maybe, 600 words?

But 60,000…

Yikes.

It’s a grueling if you haven’t already picked up on that. But, worth it. As mentioned in the pages of Bolder Dreams, anything worth doing is difficult. No runner becomes a star overnight. It takes one mile at a time. And you need many, many miles in your legs before the fruits of your labor can be enjoyed.

Once the words are all in their right places, there’s the story itself…

Does it work?

It’s a revealing process , because it’s having someone else objectively look at the erratic shapes you’ve scribbled onto the page and fix them, frame them, or have questions about them. And questions about the the content on the page is a question for the writer — what did you mean by this?

So you go back, attempting to recapture the mindset you were in when you wrote that line. What is the purpose of this line? This dialogue? What were you trying to say? It’s looking into the mirror trying to decipher what exactly you were getting at in the moment the words left your fingers and found their way to the page.

Explaining the moment of creation.

Does John really need to bicker with Blake over trivial topics? Why is Baxter always driving or walking around at night? Where did the phrase “Get your crouton” come from?

Editing is self-reflecting at its finest. I believe any writer, painter, artist would agree, that when you create something it’s hard not be feel vulnerable.

For a runner, it’s like storming across the country course to victory. But in the pursuit of red-lining you become the most un-photogenic person ever. Eyes wild in rage. Nostrils flaring in big circles like a monkey. Lips pulled back, exposing jagged teeth while slithers of drool drip from the sides of your mouth.

And that’s the photo that graces the front of the sports page in the Sunday edition.

Vulnerability aside, progress is being made. And so far we remain on schedule to hit an early-fall release. Right in time for the (pending) cross country season.

June 30, 2020

Oh hey. You. What are you doing on this page?

Yeah — You. 

If you’re here you must be for some reason. If there was a hope to learn something of substantial value I’m sorry to disappoint. This is just a page for random musings. But before you decide whether to stay or go, know that you’re reading the first blog entry on this site. That’s something worth celebrating. A tiny victory for the day, like being the first in line at Starbucks, or the first to order a pizza.

Speaking of victories, I’m currently enduring that blend between excitement and anxiety that most of us ride like waves on a day to day basis. (The victory is riding the wave in the first place.)

There’s that excitement that Bolder Dreams — a book I poured myself into — will actually see the light of day (thanks to Illumify Media Global). That alone sends racing cars through my veins in a rush of adrenaline. 

It’s this creation I once labored over without any guarantee that anyone would ever see it, and now they will. I’d imagine it’s a lot like what every athlete across the country felt this Spring — working hard to make gains, hoping to hit the track, and then they finally get the opportunity to toe the line (most didn’t). You’re excited to actually have the chance to compete, but also—

In that same pool of excitement lurks anxiety, slithering in the deep, waiting to pounce. 

When you write a book, or a story, or create anything really, a thin layer of your skin sheds off into it. And if people read deep enough into whatever it is you’ve created, they get to know you a little better — they get to see into you

In one perspective, writing can be like going to a therapist. You talk and talk and talk (write and write and write), and them someone reads between the pauses (lines) to decipher what exactly it is you’re saying (writing) in more depth. It’s like looking into a mirror from another angle. If I say I like pickles and cheese because of the contrast between moisture and dryness, perhaps it’s that I really like contrast in life

That’s where the anxiety pounces. 

Writing a book is wearing your heart on your sleeve to be lazy and use that worn-out analogy. And to be honest it’s something I’ve avoided for the latter part of my life. When you open that door you’re exposing yourself to two things: acceptance, or rejection. But when you avoid that sort of objective reaction you snuff out any opportunity to really succeed at anything. Why douse the fire before the flames rage?

The winner of a race wins by gambling on a hot pace. It may work. Or it may send them off into the bushes to get sliced and diced. Maybe there’s a snake in those bushes. But hey, battle wounds, right? Being bold sets the winner apart from the rest of the pack. You’ve got to put yourself in the position to succeed knowing that potential failure comes with the territory — the gamble. 

No. Now there won’t be any hiding anymore. It’s all out there on the page, or the table. With the salt and pepper, and salad bowl with balsamic vinaigrette still pooling at the bottom.  

Exposed.

Likewise — promoting your book, your work, on social media. 

Where is the line between promoting your work tastefully and coming off like a total narcissist? Is there a line? How many times of seeing my face or hearing my thoughts and opinions on this or that is too much? Does anyone really care if I think Radiohead’s “OK Computer” album is their best? (Or better  — does it even matter?) I’ve avoided such shameful self-promotions for a long, long time because of this very question. And perhaps it’s one I’ll have to answer in the coming months. 

And on that note, while you’re here, follow me on all my social media platforms (links below!), and sign up for my newsletter. #ShamelessSelfPromotion

What was the title of this blog again?

Shedding Skin.