No Running: What Writing and Long-Distance Running Have in Common

By Sau Yung Guo

My last two books were written in stages. As a rule, I begin with writing longhand in a notebook, usually a hardcover cloth-bound book with standard-ruled 24-pound paper in white or cream.  I prefer to write in blue or black fineliner (0.5mm or 0.7mm); I generally write in cursive and on both sides of the page.  When I have accumulated twenty pages or so, I type out the passages on Word using a standard-issue PC laptop.  Currently I use a Windows 7 Lenovo Ideapad running Word 2010.  I write in 11-pt Times New Roman, single-spaced, with 1-inch paragraph indents.   Parallel to this workstream I collect unconnected sentences based on moments of lucidity that I have at inappropriate times (toilet, business meeting).  These sentences are typed into emails addressed to myself from a Gmail account and integrated at irregular periods into the Word files.  I start at the beginning of the book and skim until I find something to fix or add.  It takes me a long time to write anything.  Even routine notes to my lawyer, for example, involve several hours of struggle.

On the temporal level, I think a lot about what a writing routine entails and how much I should be writing.  I’ve heard advice about writing that goes like this: “Do it!  Write every day!  Whether you feel like it or not!  Just put something to paper!”  It’s as if writing were an athletic pursuit.  But my partner, a onetime ultramarathoner, tells me that this metaphor is incorrect.  It appears that there are very serious runners who claim that excessive running, even if it doesn’t reduce your knees to pulp, can actually damage your performance and slow you down.  This group, which has gained significant traction, as demonstrated by Facebook forums with names like “NO RUNNING!!!”, would claim that it’s infinitely more virtuous to lift weights or swim or do circuit training six days of the week.  So maybe I am a believer in moderate amounts of writing.  Put another way, I think of writing as two people standing on opposite hills surrounding a valley, each holding an end of a long piece of string. On one end there’s something happening in the real world, what writers used to call “material.”  On the other end there are the abstract words.  Sooner or later the two people must meet, but nobody knows how.  We barely even know why.

Sau Yung Guo graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and have lived in Washington, DC since 2005. His novel, The Apocalypse of Francis Bell, will be published by Aqueous Books in 2015.