You can’t be a writer unless you write, engage, focus, toil. And endure.
Endurance is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last few months. Rowing in the World Pilot Gig Championships at the start of this month in the Scillies I thought about what massive commitment it takes to be one of the better teams, whilst smarting at the blistered pain of my hands (and other places) though my team landed in the bottom third of the table at around 110th.
Even so, I experienced the mental pain and physical discomfort of starting to push my body to train in the weeks of preparation; overcoming winter laziness, lack of comfort and weak-willed moments, and finding the strength to push through only to start the mental fight again the next day. I’m ashamed to say that I frequently hoped training would be cancelled when it rained, or was cold, or after work when I was hungry; but I had to go anyway as the team relied on us all in it together. We rowed in hail and rain, but to be honest after warming-up I barely felt the cold.
The plus side are the pay offs, the adrenaline highs that make you glad you went once you’re back in the car all too quickly, but the process of attacking each training session doesn’t seem to get easier over time. It just repeats. The pinnacle of everyone’s hard work is to witness the experience, to be present in a race that lasts 20 minutes, giving everything until empty, to participate, and be proud to come 110th.
It should go without saying but I have to say it. Training is hard, sweating day after day for slow progress, being competitive enough to fight for the final goal yet learning how to divide training into small pieces, working at each muscle group in detail and with dogged focus, being coached in technical skills, then putting all of the many lessons into practice as a whole ready to enter the arena on the day. But you have to try to do all of this as naturally as breathing, and without tensing up too much. I found that giving my best gave me power, not wanting to let anyone down, being part of something. But it also made me curious as to how to better my best.
The concept of breaking through mental pain barriers is completely new to me physically as I’ve never been much of an athlete before rowing, or competitive for that matter, except against myself. But I’ve realised that these pain barriers are a natural part of being a writer.
So here I am training in both rowing and writing. Writing is a solitary event, and I enjoy creating the deep focus that comes from entering the space of solitude. But the surprise after the World Championships is to be reminded again how important preparation and training is in sport and career writing. I am enjoying what it feels like to acknowledge the boundaries that were me before as something to be overcome, and look beyond the plump comfort of my image to identify new boundaries I’m willing to test. Perhaps I can do more.
Perhaps we all need pushing to grow, but who else is there to push us?
We have to want to push ourselves. I learn through repetition, and I’ve re-learned through this recent rowing experience that if I create a rigid enough routine, the priority of that activity, the rowing or writing, creates its own wider shoulder space and demands, even shouts to be heard. The more I write the more I need to write. The obsession is healthy. I enjoy crossing the pain barriers, because I’m improving and and I can set more informed goals. So I am training daily even in the rain and hail to write harder to get stronger, more skilled, more disciplined, more capable with toned muscles and a leaner profile.
You have to launch yourself into any event with some boldness and gusto, some positive energy and self belief. This new blog is a public witness, a diary of training to be a writer, and it is written in the slightest hope that my dogged efforts from the bottom end of the league table upwards might offer some thought or entertaining diversion to others.