tl;dr: I’m keeping myself accountable in both my running and my writing by (1) quite literally investing myself–spending money on items to further my progress means I can’t let my money go to waste; (2) being specific in my goals; and (3) putting myself out there–if the whole internet knows what I’m doing, it’s going to be a lot harder to let myself fail.
Last July I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. (You can read more about how that here.) I went from having run six miles at the most to trying to figure out how I was going to run 26.2 miles in about five months.
I’m not the first to have said this, but the real marathon happens over the months and hours of training, not between the starting and finish line–you’re not going to make it to either if you don’t put in the work during the months beforehand.
I knew there was a possibility I wouldn’t finish the race. I wasn’t a “real” runner after all–not in comparison to “the kind of people who run marathons.” (Additional post on this to follow.) But I told myself I would be okay with that if I at least put in the work and tried. All I wanted was to prove to myself was that I could commit to the training–the long-haul. Of course I preferred to also cross the finish line, but it wasn’t (entirely) about moment for me. The real reward (in addition to the medal and an Instagram pic) would be proving to myself that I, in fact, was capable of pursuing a passion with a clear goal for longer than just the occasional caffeine-fueled, self-guilt-trip-induced excursion to Starbucks to “really write for once” and “get the ball rolling.”
I’d tried and failed to do this with other projects over and over. Things started in earnest and with good intentions, and even, sometimes, promise, dropped to the wayside because the initial burst of energy passed and, well, actually showing up and doing the work was hard. But running–even a big goal like running a marathon–seemed somehow easier, certainly easier than writing. There are no metaphors in running. No audience. Just, literally, running.
Now, I’m going to contradict those first two statements. Not now now; in some other post. But it’s true–writing requires creating something from nothing (well, more like, something from something else), running for the most part only requires working legs and lungs. Running for thirty minutes to an hour seemed a lot more feasible to succeed at than trying to fill a blank screen with beautiful and complex lyricism.
Of course, anyone who has ever run knows this isn’t really true. Running is hard, and it can be just as mentally taxing as it is physically, especially when you start getting into longer runs. Your feet don’t just have to keep running, you have to convince them to. I knew–despite still finding it “easy” in comparison to other endeavors–I would have to find ways to convince, incentivize, and compel myself to keep showing up. I needed to hold myself accountable.
The easiest (and most fun) way to do this was to invest myself–literally. I spent a ton of money on my marathon training. First, I purchased my race entry, which was about $100. Then, my shoes–another $100. That alone was enough of an investment to make me commit–I spent $200 to say I was going to show up on January 12 and run 26.2 miles. (And when I put it like that, I can totally see why people say that runners are crazy. We totally are.) Not to mention the amount of money I spent on clothes and other gear (so, so, so many packets of Gu and synthetic socks).
But, more than just a financial investment, I needed to show people that I was doing this, or, to be honest, I was more than likely just not going to. If I didn’t tell people I was committing to this, then no one but me would ever have to know if I failed. But, if I showed the world what I was doing, I would have to keep going or risk the embarrassment of a public failure. (What I didn’t realize then is that failure should never be considered embarrassing, but we’ll get to that later.) I thought, if no one knows that I decided to do this, no one can be disappointed in me if I fail to try. But, if people see me try, show up, and fail, I at least would have tried. Which is more than most people can say (only .5 percent of the US population has run in a marathon), and certainly more than my past self could have said.
So I started an instagram account, @larkelruns, to document my training. I posted a picture of myself after every run with a recap of my run and how it went. I was nervous about this at first. I didn’t want to seem like I was fishing for likes, or like I was showing off–Look at all these miles I’m running! I’m so good at this!–and, conversely, and more foremost in my mind, I didn’t want anyone to judge me for “not being a real runner,” or for the vanity of starting the account in the first place. (Vanity–another thing we’ll get to later.)
What I ended up creating was something that was compelling for me as part of the process, a way to reflect and realize that I was really doing it. Beyond being just a way for me to guilt myself into running by exposing my training to other people, it became something I looked forward to and that I love looking back on. And the people who engaged with it were always kind and supportive–save the guy who stole my pictures and was pretending to be me (yes, for some reason, that really happened). That was less cool. But I did actually find a nice community of people by doing this, and I never expected that.
Ultimately, as you probably know by now, I finished the race. I got a medal, a perfectly Instagrammable finish-line photo, and bragging rights for life. There are a lot reasons to run a marathon. Those were pretty up there for me. But I also wanted to prove to myself that I could commit to something really, really hard–my wall was either going to be the finish line, or what I’d bang my head against when I failed.
Finishing the marathon was the proudest I’ve ever been of myself. I’d done it–I’d committed, I’d worked hard, and I got the results I wanted. With the finish line behind me, I took some time to regroup, and then decided it was time to get back to work on other projects–my writing.
Like I said above, writing–especially writing consistently–is intimidating to me. I tend to write my best and the most when I have a structure, such as a class, with set deadlines to work around. I noticed when I wasn’t in a creative writing class, and especially once I graduated college, that I just didn’t keep up with it. It’s not that I didn’t want to write, or that I didn’t have ideas, I just found it really, really hard.
I think of writing the same way I think of laundry. It’s something that needs to be done–I even want to do it; I know doing it will make me feel better and give me a sense of accomplishment to have done so. And I’m even pretty good at picking the clothes up off the floor and throwing them in the hamper, and–now that I have a washer/dryer–loading them into the machines. It’s when it’s time to take them out of the dryer and fold and hang them that I start to fall off the wayside. That final step is the hardest and the most taxing in my mind.
As with laundry, I’m really good at prepping to write, and getting the initial steps underway. I’ll set up a schedule, give myself due dates, even write myself prompts. I probably have two to three bursts of energy to organize myself like this every year. But then I sit down to write. If I’m lucky, I get a full first draft out. But usually, I write the couple of stanzas or paragraphs that were already floating in my head and then I go, Hmm. I’m stuck. I think I’ll sleep on it. And what ends up happening is drafts go unfinished, or unfinalized, and they certainly don’t get submitted anywhere. The laundry sits in the dryer, and I gradually take items out when I want to wear them, until the dryer is empty and it starts all over again.
So, now that I’m trying this again, I’m going to keep up with my organization habits that I already have mastered pretty well (I’m a Capricorn, what can I say? It comes pretty easily), and I’m going to try to apply my accountability tricks from my marathon to my writing.
This website is a large–the largest–part of that. I’m going to be using this very similarly to the way I used @larkelruns, only with more long-form content, of course, and including a wider variety of topics. As before, I don’t really expect to engage with a lot of people here–especially since it is long form and not easily available on an app that most people already have. You have to swipe and click a couple of different places to find what you want, as opposed to it just showing up in your feed (though I’ll still be posting on @larkelruns, don’t worry), and then read something longer than a caption. I hope to again be proven wrong, and to find some of you who do want to discuss the topics I’ll be posting about further. But until then, I’m using this space more so to give myself visibility–people might not be looking at it all the time, but they could at any moment, and I need to be ready for when they do.
One way I’d like to hopefully work with you guys is through prompts. Every other week I’ll be posting prompts with a personal deadline for me to finish a draft, and an offer for you to submit your own prompt response to me for mutual feedback. I’d love to have a consistent group of people who’d like to digitally workshop. I know this might not happen, but I’ll still be posting the prompts, and whether or not I hear from you, I hope they help you, too.
As for my financial investment–I bought a desktop monitor to hook my laptop up to, and already I’m wishing I’d done this ages ago. There’s not really “gear” for writers the same way there is for runners; I’ve been gifted so many journals over the years I’m think I’ll be well-stocked until the day I die (although, I prefer composition notebooks, I must say). But I did have to pay for this domain name, so that’s something.
Next week I’ll be sharing my goals and ambitions for the year, both for running and for writing. I’ll be updating this space regularly on my progress toward them, in addition to other thoughts on the process of pursuing something big, posting logs of my runs, and maybe a review here and there of what I’m reading. (Plus, and especially, cat pics.)
If you have other ways of keeping yourself accountable, I’d be curious to hear about them in the comments. I know what works for me might not work or be possible for other people (not everyone can afford a new monitor or a $100 race ticket; I totally get it), so I’d love to share any other accountability tactics that other people might find useful, too.