“The real purpose of running is not to win a race. It’s to test the limits of the human heart.” Bill Bowerman, American coach and co-founder of Nike
This sign was emblazoned on a sandwich board at a café to celebrate a local “Baker’s Dozen” mini-marathon in my hometown. Reading it, a thought instantly sprang to mind: the same is true of writing. The real purpose of writing is not to win — to race to the finish line or to get a book published, though that’s certainly part of the story. Instead, just like running, the real purpose of writing is to “test the limits of the human heart” – – our hearts, the hearts of our characters, and the hearts of our readers. My musings on this:
Our hearts: When we write, we test our own hearts in so many ways. We need a passionate, heartfelt connection to a story or novel in order to bring it to life: Without a beating heart, a story is two-dimensional, words on a page. We test the limits of our heart connection to a story when we hit rough patches and have to fight through them. And our heart is tested once we’ve finished a project we really care about and step it out into the world, where it may or may not be kindly received. It takes courage and faith to stay the course because the race is not always to the swift.
Our characters’ hearts: When we write, we also “test” our characters’ hearts. Can we make their emotions real and rich enough to bring them to life on the page? Can we endow them with enough life force to sustain them and make their decisions, whether wise or foolish, seem convincing in light of who we’ve shown them to be? Can we share their struggles and triumphs in ways that reveal their needs and wants through their actions?
Our readers’ hearts: Can we express our characters’ courage and fears realistically enough to make a reader feel what they feel? Can we make them appealing or intriguing enough to impel readers to devote precious hours to walking through their world beside them? Can we reveal something about the human condition and the “limits of the human heart” to our readers through the characters we fashion from “our own “blood, sweat, and tears?”
There is something magical, even mystical, about the entangling of hearts in a beautifully crafted story. Think of Harry Potter or A Christmas Carol or Romeo and Juliet. These works endure and find new generations of readers not because of clever plot twists and appealing settings, but because they show us that out in the world other hearts beat with the same longings and frailties and confusion as our own. As storytellers, when we truly “test the limits of the human heart,” we do more than win the race, we help explain to ourselves and our readers why we run. Write on!