On Writing and Bike RidingPosted: October 9, 2013
I started bicycle riding a few months ago after a twenty-five year lull. A fellow writer sold me the bike. She looked concerned when I ceremoniously mounted the saddle and peddled away. I rode a few yards before losing my breath and compromising public safety.
“Um, do you think this is such a good idea?” she asked. I couldn’t hide my wobble. I jerked the handlebars with such violent imprecision that she became visibly nervous.
“I advise that you wear a helmet,” she commented.
I took off the next day to explore the greenway beside my home. One mile in and I became certain that others on the path were secretly laughing at my amateur swerve and heavy breathing.
A week later, I ventured even farther, my lung capacity stretching to accommodate this newfound distance. I discovered hidden geographies and alternate passages to new places that I had missed while in a car. A different world revealed itself, and it was one only accessible by bike.
One major obstacle existed, however: The Hill. One ridge kept me boundaried to a small radius around my home. I could not climb the incline without walking my bike. I dared not suffer the humiliation. I was convinced that those who lived on the hilltop– a bohemian, artistic enclave — were peeking out of their well-lit studios to laugh at the fat-girl-on-the-bike who couldn’t handle the slope.
Beyond this protuberance lay my favorite coffee shop, work, downtown, and the rest of my life.
One day, I decided that my only goal for the moment was to get up that hill without my feet touching the ground. I ferried forth with laborious breath until I finally sat up in the saddle with legs already rubbery from the strain. I started talking aloud: You can do this. You are doing this! You are doing this! I huffed, and I puffed, and I crested the summit.
Then I vowed never to try it again. It was just too hard. I’m not ready, I thought. I just can’t.
And I didn’t.
Until I realized that the only obstacle preventing me from biking a mere two miles to work was a medium-sized hill and a mountain’s worth of insecurity. I had this tiny epiphany: all the things that I am afraid of trying, one day, they will be things I just do. So just do it.
And I did. I huffed, and I puffed, and getting up that hill was approximately five percent easier than the previous time, but I did it. I did it the next day, and the next, and I finally rode my bike to work and then to the coffee shop. I lost my breath every time. I wobbled. I became drenched with sweat, but by God, I did it.
I am standing in line at a coffee shop – the same one that I struggled upland to ride towards — waiting for the evening’s poet, a local academic, to sign my copy of his new collection. The place is packed. What a wonderful feeling for any writer.
The woman standing beside me strikes up a conversation.
“Are you a writer?” she asks. She is older and very Southern. Her top is white filigree and reminds me of a doily.
“I am,” I respond. “And you?”
“Yes, well…” she hesitates. “I mean, I write, you know, like blogs and stuff. I write all the time here and there. I keep wanting to take a class!”
She starts to fan herself like the admission elicits a hot flash.
“But you write regardless, correct?” I inquire.
“Yes! But I just wish I could find other writers, you know, like…”
“A writing community?”
“Exactly, I wish I had a writing community. And with the university right here, I’d just love to take a class. You know, then I’d feel like a real writer.”
Just one week before, while on my bike, I had a similar conversation with myself. There are times I ache to be in a MFA or creative writing program. I long for that lifestyle. I want to talk about writing craft and ruminate upon narrative theory! If only I could take a workshop, or a class, or get a degree, then I, too, would be a real writer.
These endeavors offer important access to a writing community, careful critique of your work, exposure to published authors. Perhaps the most important benefit is that these events help facilitate the space of stillness required for writing.
Alas, none of these things make a real writer.
Let me confess: I did not feel real after my first or second book. I did not feel real after my Love, Inshallah essay, or even after an appearance on public radio. If anything, I felt like a fraud. I did not feel like a writer even after being awarded my first writing grant. By some bizarre logic, I felt I wouldn’t be authentic until obscure literary journals featured my work.
Huffing along on my bike, it occurred to me that all of my achievements arrived in the absence of a class, a workshop, a MFA program, or even a writing community. I sat down in fervent solitude and I wrote. I revised and I wrote again. I composed in the absence of emotional or peer support. I scribed in consistent battle with monstrous fears. I wrote with wobble, but by God, I did it.
Imagine my surprise when I received my first non-fiction book contract, then the Love, Inshallah anthology, and then, amazingly, a small writing grant. Imagine my relief when I discovered that a constant hum of failure and the impostor syndrome are not uncommon feelings for published authors.
Imagine the moment I realized that I am writing for a worldwide audience. For example, Loveinshallah.com’s growing readership is global. This site is sometimes a new writer’s first online publication. The secret to authenticity is this: real writers write. The best of real writers support the literary growth of other writers.
It is appropriate that while riding my bike, I realized that I am, indeed, a real writer. Meanwhile, just as I am learning to balance on my new mode of transport, the writing journey keeps extending into unexplored terrains.
I write in parables, of course. Getting on the bike mimicked the butt-to-seat toil that is similar to the process of becoming a writer. To begin a writing habit, one is wobbly at times, often out-of-breath, sweaty, and consistently in the face of fear doused hills. Yet, one peddles forth. The words eventually fall on the page to reveal secret cartographies and magical worlds accessed only by the vehicle of language. The writing process becomes a tender compass that somehow unfolds into the promise of something wonderful.
Remember, of all the things you are afraid of trying, one day, these will be things you just do. So, just start writing.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and a LoveInshallah.com editor. She is a published author. Her work is also found at altmuslimah.com and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is happy to report that she now feels like a “real” writer, and one who is currently working on a memoir with support a Regional Artists’ Grant from the North Carolina United Arts Council. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.