Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Writing Lessons from a Long Bicycle Ride

This post was originally published over on The Writing Bug, right after the 2013 Ride for Sight. I did the 2016 Ride for Sight on August 14 -- same ride, same distance, same feeling of accomplishment, same lessons for my writing life. 



by Susan

I had a wonderful day Sunday before last at the Cheyenne Lions Ride for Sight. A perfect, amazing, glorious day -- 52 miles on the bicycle. Why yes, I AM bragging. So what does this have to do with writing? Looking at why I had such a good day, there were a few lessons for word work:

  1. I prepared -- I didn't go from zero to 50 without a few 20- and 30-milers. If I don't practice writing, I'm not going to able to succeed. Journaling and exercises all help me build up to longer and better work.
  2. I showed up -- That Sunday morning, I had little energy and wasn't entirely sure I had a long ride in me. Despite that, I showed up. If I don't show up to write, nothing will happen. When I make space for writing, it happens.
  3. I lowered my expectations -- I didn't engage in fantasies of riding the entire 100-mile course. I decided to do what I could do. When I write, if I think everything must be brilliant and perfect, I stop myself from doing as much as I can, because I get caught up in what I aspire to. The poet William Stafford was known for telling his students, "lower your standards and keep going." I just kept going.
  4. I trusted the process -- One year on the same ride, I had a horrible day because I got caught up in the outcome -- how many miles would I ride? I didn't pay enough attention to the mechanics of getting there. When I focused on a smooth cadence and a steady pace, the miles unfolded without misery. When I write, I need to focus on the process -- how to tell the story, what precise word do I need here, what I should cut. If I write while simultaneously fantasizing about publishing, it doesn't work.
  5. I fed myself -- I've bonked once or twice on long rides: collapsed on the ground, shaking and conversing with imaginary people. The surest route to bonking is to not eat enough. As writers, we need to do what "feeds" us outside of writing, whether it's time in nature, in the garden or with family. We need to take care of ourselves physically and mentally. Sure, on a big deadline we can push it, but we can't push it forever.
And the best lesson? When you do it right -- cycling or riding -- it feels like flying. That makes it all worth it.
What writing lessons do you get from other activities in your life? Which of these here resonate with you?

And ... who wants to go with me on the Ride for Sight next year!

11 comments:

  1. Nice essay, Susan. Yes we can take lessons for our writing from other parts of our lives, particularly when we push ourselves close to limits in those too. And the time away from writing, experiencing something else can help "fill the writing tank."

    I love Stafford's "lower your standards and keep going." I'm getting ready to teach an 8-week poetry course and think I may use that as the guiding philosophy. May even print up small copies of it on cards to hand out to my students who can put it over their desk as I'm about to do for myself.

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    1. Oh how I wish I were in your neighborhood and could take your poetry class. A little time with you and I'd probably not have to lower my standards quite as much.

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  2. Susan, to hang around with me you'd have to really lower your standards. ;-) Yes, I wish you could come to the class too. It is the first poetry class I've taught, save for the several haiku classes. In those I have a partner. This one is solo. I'm a bit scared.

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    1. I agree! You will be a wonderful teacher!

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  3. If they'd let me do the ride on a motorcycle :) . . . . .
    Writing, cycling, or motorcycling, they all seem to have the same 5 points in common. Good post, still. Who said it's the journey, not the destination?

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    1. Probably not in the Ride for Sight, but if a motorcycle trip has the same effect for you, go for it!

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  4. Excellent advice and pep talk, Susan. Thank you. I needed that.

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  5. I love all of your lessons. But I'm not sure that many of my life lessons are transferable to poetry. They mostly consist of variations of "do it even when you don't feel like it." But poetry doesn't always show up through force of will. I'll have to learn some new lessons.

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    1. I dunno. "Suck it up" and get some butt-in-chair time isn't such a bad thing for a writer. ;) There used to be a button that said, "Oh no! Not another learning experience!" I feel that way a lot of days.

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