Instagram Q&A

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.

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