The writer in me vs the runner in me

I had to run four miles Saturday morning to meet my weekly goal of 20 miles. I chose a route through my neighborhood and a nearby subdivision. I run the 4.3 mile stretch often – it’s the flattest path I have without driving elsewhere to run.

Since making the goal of 20 miles a week and 500 words a day on January 1, I haven’t missed one week of my miles. Last week, I did most of them on Saturday when I ran my first half marathon in two years.

But the writing though.

We’re nearly at the 100th day of the year. So far there have been five days I didn’t make my 500-word goal. The last time I missed a day was Friday night. After answering my last work email, and going for a five mile run, and having Chinese carry-out with the kiddos, I started reading a book I bought earlier in the day. Before I finished chapter two, I fell asleep on the couch with Jacqueline Woodson’s “Another Brooklyn” on my chest. When my husband woke me up, I made my way to our bed without one thought of opening my laptop.

I’m not even all that bothered by the five days I’ve missed. It’s the writing I’ve been doing to meet my goal that has me in a rut. It’s lazy writing. End-of-day-just-get-something-down writing.

I have a word doc saved on my desktop titled “Letters to Myself.” Nearly every night, after the work day is over. After the kids are asleep. After practices and homework and dinner has been taken care of. After a load of laundry has been switched from the washer to the dryer (but left unfolded). After I have scrolled through Facebook and made myself sick with political Twitter. After doing every single thing I can think to do besides write – I sit next to my husband, in bed, open my laptop, and start typing until I’ve logged 500 words.

Right now, the document is 74 pages long and has 39,314 words. The first entry is January 10. If I had started it with a goal in mind – a story – I’d be 40K words into my manuscript. That’s nearly halfway into a first draft of a full novel. Instead, it’s filled with 500-word passages that could double for a teenager’s diary (if the teenager was married, with two kids and a full-time job). Some entries are 500-word paragraphs with no line breaks. No beginning, no middle, no end. No plot, no characters. No arc. No art. Some entries are lists of the things I want in my life. Places I want to go. Novels and essays I want to write. Some entries are recaps of my day and paragraphs filled with the tasks I’ve left unfinished – both big and tedious. There’s a lot of rage, still left over from November 8.  Sometimes I can spend 500 words listing all the things that scare me.

The words “I’m tired” show up 21 times in the document. “I’m exhausted” 22.

Most every night, I put off writing until the very end of my day – it’s the very last thing I do before I close my laptop, lay back, and fall asleep. I’ve been working on this post since Saturday. It’s 9:05 p.m. on Monday night, and only now am I here trying to wrangle together something that’s finally worth publishing.

I want to feel about my writing the way I feel about my running. That I have accomplished something. That I am not showing up at the end of every day only to do a brain dump, struggling to get to 500 words. I want my words to matter.

Maybe I need a brain dump – maybe those 38,000 words are covering up all the good stuff. Maybe I am digging to the words that matter through my end-of-day ramblings.

Maybe I need to mix something up.

What if writing was the first thing I did in my day instead of the last? What if I was one of those female writers who wake before their kids, their husband, before the dog needs out, to sit in the quiet at her kitchen table and write for an hour. It’s so easy for me to blame my lack of writing on being a mom – as if there has never been a novel, essay or any meaningful work published by a woman with kids. I spend my most irritated moments silently listing all the strikes against my writing time – second-grade homework, junior high project-needs, grocery shopping, meal-making, a career, a husband whose work schedule doesn’t align with piano/drum/tennis lesson times. Life.

Even with all my excuses, I still find time to run. Why is it so much more difficult to log words versus miles?

In that word doc, there’s one phrase that shows up 30 times – more often than any other phrase, more than “I’m tired” or “I’m exhausted” – I want to write. My hope is that somewhere in those 74 pages filled mostly with stream-of-conscious writing, my “I want to write” will eventually find its way out.