monique polak

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Technicalities and the Personal Essay

Over the last two days, I have been working on a personal essay about the connection I find between running and writing.
Yesterday morning, I ran my husband to the bus stop, and as I often do, I discussed my latest writing pickle: how I was going to begin the essay.

My husband is a good person to discuss such matters with -- he's an editor at the Montreal Gazette, the local English daily here in Montreal. But yesterday, he was even better than usual.

Here's why:

I explained that I was thinking of starting my essay with the line, "I write and run every single day." But then I explained to him what the pickle was: I do write every single day (that's because, for years, I have started my days with three pages in my journal), but technically, I don't run every day. I exercise every day -- sometimes that means I lift weights at the Y or go to my boxing lesson instead. So my question was kind of technical, "Do you think I can start with that line anyhow -- even if there are days that I don't run?"

My husband thought about it for a few moments and then he told me he didn't think I should go with that beginning. He said, "Come up with a different lead altogether. If you're going to start off with something that isn't true, you're going to alienate yourself from your writing."
As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. I went home and re-worked the beginning. I came up with something that was just as good as what I'd had before -- but which was 100 per cent true. And I think coming up with a truer beginning led to a better piece of writing.

Writer-in-Residence!
An Afternoon at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Ce...
 

Comments

Guest - Leila Basen on Thursday, 19 September 2013 18:20

I too run and write. I run because, as a writer, I sit on my fat ass all day long. Which, if I didn't run would get fatter. When I have a writing problem, I often stick it in my mind in a free floating kind of way, before I begin my run. Then, without actually focusing on the problem, I let it drift around in my thoughts as I run. I usually find myself imagining the scene or coming up with an image and often, by the end of my run, I have a way into my writing for that day. I run with my dogs on a rural bike path so I don't have to be conscious of anything other than weather and whatever nature dishes out - a dead deer, a varmint or aches and pains I didn't have the day before. I never listen to music but sometimes I do a meditation to pass the time. The important thing is, when you've done your run, you've already accomplished something in your day and the blank page looks less daunting.

I too run and write. I run because, as a writer, I sit on my fat ass all day long. Which, if I didn't run would get fatter. When I have a writing problem, I often stick it in my mind in a free floating kind of way, before I begin my run. Then, without actually focusing on the problem, I let it drift around in my thoughts as I run. I usually find myself imagining the scene or coming up with an image and often, by the end of my run, I have a way into my writing for that day. I run with my dogs on a rural bike path so I don't have to be conscious of anything other than weather and whatever nature dishes out - a dead deer, a varmint or aches and pains I didn't have the day before. I never listen to music but sometimes I do a meditation to pass the time. The important thing is, when you've done your run, you've already accomplished something in your day and the blank page looks less daunting.
Guest - Monique P on Thursday, 19 September 2013 18:27

Dear Leila, aka Queen of the Family Drama,
The piece I was working on is for "Write," the Writers' Union of Canada publication. And you are part of my story -- in fact you play a major role, though I didn't use your name, just "a friend who writes for TV." Love what you say about the page looking less daunting after a run. I never thought of it that way, but it's certainly true. Hey, let's go for a run one of these days!

Dear Leila, aka Queen of the Family Drama, The piece I was working on is for "Write," the Writers' Union of Canada publication. And you are part of my story -- in fact you play a major role, though I didn't use your name, just "a friend who writes for TV." Love what you say about the page looking less daunting after a run. I never thought of it that way, but it's certainly true. Hey, let's go for a run one of these days!
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Wednesday, 28 October 2020

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