In case you've missed (or avoided) my previous ramblings on the subject, the name of this blog is a quotation from the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, whose latest book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has recently made its way to the tottering pile at my pillowside. As the title suggests, it's the author's thoughts on distance running, a pastime that he took up in 1982; not coincidentally, also the year that he became a full-time writer.
At first the link between job and hobby was a purely pragmatic one, to the point of banality: he gave up his job as owner/manager of a jazz bar to write, and running was the simplest way to keep his weight down in his newly sedentary occupation. But at some point, the connection became deeper:
In the novelist's profession, as far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as winning or losing. Maybe numbers of copies sold, awards won, and critics' praise serve as outward standards for accomplishment in literature, but none of them really matter. What's crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you've set for yourself. Failure to reach that bar is not something you can easily explain away. When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable explanation, but you can't fool yourself. In this sense, writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn't seek validation in the outwardly visible.
Now, this strikes me as a little disingenuous. After all, Murakami is in a small minority of published authors, in that he can make a comfortable living from book sales alone; no more wiping tables and rolling drunks to the sound of 'Autumn Leaves'. And, speaking as a published author who certainly can't retire on his royalties, critics' praise is always an issue, if only to offer a distraction from the lack of cash. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is.
Which is as good a moment as any to offer up the results of a recent, despondent self-Google. First, a mention in The Independent of a biography of the doomed R&B princess Aaliyah. Laurence Phelan describes it as:
...sugary and a bit tacky.
Which is probably fair enough. Over at Amazon, one David Navarrete describes my tome about one-joke gitpunks Blink 182 thus:
This was a present for my sister, in Chile, she said that is a berry god book, I dont know realy because i'm living in spain right now.
The only response to which is a recent, anonymous addition to my Wikipedia page:
From 1999 to 2001 he was the editor of Guinness World Records during which time its emphasis became markedly more light-hearted.
I'm not sure about you, but I need a break after that lot. Here's Creedence Clearwater Revival, for no reason other than Murakami's fondness for them as running music. (He uses a MiniDisc, which is endearingly perverse.)
Of course, not all of my writing is done for money, or even for critical praise. There's blogging, for a start. Now, I certainly don't "seek validation in the outwardly visible" when I slam down my thoughts here. (While we're in this quadrant, do check out Merlin Mann at 43 Folders on why just slamming down thoughts is a no-no: "Blog posts are written, not defecated," he says, which made me smile. Thanks to Dr Ian for the tip.)
But not even blogging exists in a vacuum. I've never understood bloggers who disable the comments facility. Patroclus got it right when she called blogging a conversation: if you want to get more poncy and theoretical than that, you can always pull Roland Barthes out from under the laundry van and get him to explain his "multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash". The point is that writing may well be a solitary activity, but it usually needs to brush up against other people for it to have value; a fresh pair of reading eyes can be transformative.
Incidentally, the same applies to running, although some of you may remember some of the humiliations I've endured while bashing the tarmac, so I'm not going to pontificate too much on that subject. Even if Murakami is only aiming for a self-imposed target as he notches up yet another 26.2 miles, the simple presence of other participants can only affect his thinking, and thus his performance. At one point in the book he describes a run from Athens to Marathon, accompanied only by a support van, which makes for an utterly different experience from the bustle of a big race. After all, his final dedication is "to all the runners I've encountered on the road - those I've passed, and those who've passed me."
Go on. Treat yourselves to a lap of honour.