Where rowing and writing collide

I was surprised to see an article about rowing in the normally closer to dull as dishwater tax magazine I need to read every month. So technically it wasn’t all around rowing, but there was a close to full page picture of a boat (quad skull for anyone interested) with the caption “Will it make the boat go faster?”

Boat

Unfortunately the article was only tangentially about rowing. It was really about setting goals based on what matters to you and some probably well-known exercises where the value lies not in saying “oh yes, I’ve seen that exercise before, people should do that” but in stopping and actually doing it themselves. Here’s one.

Imagine yourself at a dinner party in ten years’ time. What do you want to be saying about yourself?

Right, let’s forget the dinner party thing for starters. No, wait, that’s not the important part of the exercise. Strange how we can get distracted by the detail that we’re comfortable and miss the whole point.

And I knew the answer to this one. I think, I believe, that it’s the first time I do know, or at least the first time I can articulate it.

I want to have published five novels set in places or including subjects that matter to me. Now please don’t confuse that with the novel being “about” those places or subjects. I don’t think it works that way. Novels are, I currently think, about people (characters) and the choices they make in certain situations. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but bear with me. What am I writing about? Easy answer is I’m writing about East Germany. But I’m not really. I’m writing about Natalie Dornbusch, who is a teenager whose mother disappeared when she was young, with a father who spends all his time working, grandparents who met on a frozen road in 1945 somewhere between Leningrad and Berlin when they buried a woman and her newborn baby together. And Natalie has to figure out her place in society, who she is, what she will and won’t stand for, who she loves and what that means when she has to choose between two things she loves. She happens to live in East Germany but what she wants is the same as all of us. To have a life that she can shape, to do something she enjoys, to love and be loved, and to find out who she is. Her life is shaped by those around her, some of whom she chooses to be with, some of whom she has no choice about. When I write that story, I am writing about Natalie. Last week, I was laughing so much at one point that I couldn’t finish writing the scene for a while, then the next day I was crying at another part. This is, I think, a good thing. Natalie matters.

I was reminded in this article that our brains do not distinguish between something that is real and something that is imagined. Well of course they can tell the difference, but here’s a thought. When we were last in Berlin, we walked along a road I had been along hundreds of time. I have memories of it from when I was living there, when I’ve visited subsequently, of being on a conference call on December 31st one year when we decided whether to implement a project I had worked on for the best part of a year. And on this particular visit, I found I had memories of when I was a child there. Of the gap in the hedge at the end of one of the side streets that we used to crawl through, of where my friend collided with me on his bike with the wobbly wheel because his brakes didn’t work. Wait. I didn’t grow up there, I was never a child there. But I have memories of all those things and although one part of my brain knows what did and didn’t happen, there’s a part of my brain that actually cannot distinguish between the two sets of pictures and associations in my head. They all feel equally real and I would struggle to say that they felt different emotionally. I was very conscious that one part of my brain was working overtime trying to tell the other part to shut up with its nonsense, but that other part was having a lot of fun with it.

So, back to this ten year thing.

Why 5 novels? Because it’s a number. One a year would be silly because it would be unachievable (if I want them to be any good anyway!). One in ten years wouldn’t feel worth it. So one every two years. Feels achievable and worthwhile and definitely challenging.

And along the way I want to keep running and have some fun with that. I rather think it will be in cycles of one year increased time and focus on running, one year more on the actual writing of pen (currently pencil) on paper. But I have no idea. Nor does it matter as long as I’m having fun with both. And there’s the other thing with this writing business. Of course I would like to find I can do it well enough that what I write is of interest to someone else other than those who feel morally obliged to say nice things about it. Although now I come to think about it, I can’t think of anyone who will consider themselves to be in that category. But I have now realised that I am going to do this anyway, that’s just what I need to do. And I want to do it. So I’m also remembering that it’s supposed to be fun. Not always, nothing is, but if I’m not getting something out of it that is more than spending the time doing something else (we economists would call that opportunity cost) then long term I probably shouldn’t be doing it. And I’ve now had a few weeks rather than days (holidays were a huge help) of experiencing spending significantly more time writing that I can say that I prefer doing more rather than less. It turns out that the odd five or ten minutes can start to add up and all you need in addition is a piece of paper and a pen. And just as, when I started running, I found it was something that I would get out of bed early for every morning, I now find that I will get up early every morning to write. And still spend a good hour in the evening doing some more. It just means I can’t do some other things in that same time, but seeing as I am about to be stranded waiting for dance classes to end four times a week, I have that time as well.

So I know what I want to be able to say at the dinner party in ten years’ time and I have a plan of how to do it. I might even show up to the dinner party. Although that’s the less likely of the two outcomes.

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