The easiest of my races when I was in high school was the 45 meter high hurdles. Every time I got down in the blocks I knew exactly what I was supposed to do: run as fast as I possibly could. The 300 meter low hurdles were not as simple. Though the race is considered a sprint, one cannot run as fast as you possibly can for 300 meters. At that distance you must find a pace you can maintain through the finish line. For four years, I never knew what that pace was. For four years as I was crouched down in my blocks waiting for the starting gun I felt as if I were about to launch myself into an abyss. What exactly was I supposed to do? Exactly how fast should I move my feet? My attention, whether I was running or writing or listening to music, was always on, and if I didn’t know what to do with it, where I should focus it, I felt lost.

Then, a week before the class championships of my senior year, my coaches got the bright idea to coach me. For a week, I practiced running 200 meters at the exact pace I would need to run to be my most competitive. When I crouched down at the start of the 300 meters finals, my attention, my ceaseless focus, was trained entirely on what it would feel like to move my feet as fast they should move. I won the race.

For many years, I would sit down to write feeling much as I did at the start of all those 300 meter races. I knew I wanted to write, just as I had known I had wanted to run, but I could not find where my attention should be focused for me to write a good book. On words? On action? On characters? It was all darkness, and I felt lost.

When I showed my brother my first novel, he sighed and said, “It doesn’t sound like you.” I told him he was wrong, that this book had come from a part of me that I hadn’t shown anyone yet – but I knew the truth of it. I hadn’t felt like me when I was writing it, which perhaps had been the point.

I would eventually find where I should train that ceaseless attention of mine when I was writing. What I trained it on had nothing to do with words, or plots, or characters. It had nothing to do with good writing. Yet I trained it there all the same, and sometimes when I did it felt like cheating, as if I had been declared the winner before the gun had sounded.

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