Like Haruki Murakami and other running novelists, Joyce Carol Oates, author of more than 50 books and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction has used running in service of her creativity. Below are excerpts from her 1999 New York Times essay, “To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet.”
“Running! If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think what it might be. In running the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms. Ideally, the runner who’s a writer is running through the land- and cityscapes of her fiction, like a ghost in a real setting.
“The structural problems I set for myself in writing, in a long, snarled, frustrating and sometimes despairing morning of work, for instance, I can usually unsnarl by running in the afternoon.
“On days when I can’t run, I don’t feel “myself”; and whoever the “self” is I feel, I don’t like nearly so much as the other. And the writing remains snarled in endless revisions.
“Both running and writing are highly addictive activities; both are, for me, inextricably bound up with consciousness. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t running, and I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t writing.
“The effort of memorable art is to evoke in the reader or spectator emotions appropriate to that effort. Running is a meditation; more practicably it allows me to scroll through, in my mind’s eye, the pages I’ve just written, proofreading for errors and improvements.
“Dreams may be temporary flights into madness that, by some law of neurophysiology unclear to us, keep us from actual madness. So, too, the twin activities of running and writing keep the writer reasonably sane and with the hope, however illusory and temporary, of control.”
What about you? Do you have a physical activity that helps you with your writing?