I was out for a walk today (about 10 miles, but not yet running after falling down--almost two weeks ago now--still sore).
I saw one runner overtake another, and both of them had a look on their face like the competition meant something. Even though they were just running on a bike path.
It started me thinking about Murakami again and how so much of his relationship to running is competitive. He talks about how important it is for him to beat a certain time when he runs a marathon; he talks about how important it is just to run in races; he talks about passing other runners enough that it's clear that he likes to pass other runners. Obviously he's not so consumed with competitive fire that he can't deal with the many better runners in the world, but still...
Personally, I don't run races, partly because the whole competitive pass you/pass me thing is distasteful. The first race I ever ran in (I ran because my friend's organization was having a fund-raiser), I remember gaining on some guy near the end of the race and the look on his face as he pushed to stay ahead of me. I was just out trying to run the right amount for my body--hard enough to be working hard, but not hard enough to really suffer.
In all the races I've run, my plan was only to finish without suffering; to take the run as if it were any other run--pace myself so that I get the right workout for me. I start off slow, and let my pace increase as I feel myself get into the groove. At the end I slow down, if the run is long enough--generally the slow down comes around mile nine, if I run that far. And I basically did the exact same thing in the races I ran, too.
I was wondering, however, about the parallel to writing. Murakami's book, of course, is all about the parallel between running and writing. Because I can see that there is a possible relevant parallel: Murakami's competitive, goal-driven attitude is gratified partly by the accomplishments--like completing and publishing a book. Me, I don't have that; I just enjoy the process--which maybe explains why I haven't completed several books: I'm not really concerned with the result, so much as with the process.
In this, I think I could learn from Murakami. There's something to be said for my laid-back, no-pressure writing attitude--I enjoy writing and do a fair amount. But balance is good: there's a lot of value in the bringing a project to completion, and one wants to have the drive that finishing takes.
I was talking with a writer yesterday who has been blocked, but who said, "I've been writing, and it seems like I'm making progress."
I responded "If you're writing; you're making progress. It's not about 'seeming.'"
In the light of this discussion, I see that there are two sides to this, and in a way we were both right. I was right from the perspective of the writing process and the writer's relationship to writing. If you haven't been writing at all, and you start to write, that's making progress in your writing practice. But if your writing doesn't ultimately move towards the complete work, submitted and accepted, then one essential dimension of progress is missing.