I’ve recently added a new component to my workouts: guided aerobic walking using a weighted Walkvest. My coach, Debbie Rocker, is on CD, helping me work on endurance. Of course I naturally transfer her coaching to my writing, because that’s endurance work as well.
The word endure comes from Latin indurare, which means “make hard” or “harden.” Endure now means “continuing to exist,” or “to undergo without breaking.” In Rocker’s words, endurance in a walking workout means “going all the way . . . staying strong on the road.” For me it’s becoming strong enough to stay on the road. In endurance training “you challenge yourself, you work purposefully with intention, you create a powerful position from the inside out.” And you find your endurance zone, your endurance level. Once you reach your endurance zone, you challenge yourself to stretch a little more, go a little farther, work a little longer, or add a little weight (not to your body, but to what you carry as you walk).
While endurance training in a physical activity helps your body work more efficiently, endurance training in writing helps your mind and muse work more efficiently. When I was studying for my MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, my first adviser told me that I was a good writer, and I could get by, but if I challenged myself to work hard, I could be better. I could aim for excellent. I’m not there yet, but I’m in endurance training. Each book I write is a challenge – which is exactly as it should be. As Susan Fletcher, another of my advisers, once told me, “Every book teaches you how to write that book.” Each new story you write brings new challenges.
Writing a novel is endurance training. It teaches you to go all the way, to stay strong on the road of the story. A writer works purposefully with intention and creates a powerful position from the inside out – from the inside of self onto the pages of the novel.
Something else I noticed: The shape of a story echoes the shape of a workout. You start a walking workout slowly and increase the difficulty incrementally. Periodically you plateau and then back off, letting the heart rate lower a bit. Then you raise the bar and increase the heart rate again. After the most challenging peak of activity, you slow the pace and cool down. The shape of most stories follows a similar pattern, starting with a warm-up, your intention to go the distance and take the reader with you (a “this is what we’re here for”). Then the tension varies – rises, backs off, rises – until it peaks at the climax of the story. After that comes the cool down. As Rocker says, “ease your way home.”
“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into story.” So writer, know why you are here, bring it all to the novel, and ease your way home.
Happy Reading, Happy Writing, Happy Life!
*Quote adapted from William Barclay by replacing his glory with my story.
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com