Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite movies. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s a great film about running. It’s well-constructed, beautifully rendered, and thought-provoking, and I occasionally watch it when I’m on the treadmill as an inspiration to keep huffing and puffing.
The film tells the mostly true story of two very different men, both exceptional runners, who are training to compete in the 1924 Olympics.
Harold Abrahams is a brash and confident law student at Cambridge University who boasts that he’s never lost a foot race. He follows it up by winning the College Dash, a race against the clock that had never been accomplished in the 700 years of its history.
Eric Liddell is the modest and devout son of a Scottish missionary who has determined his own future will be in the mission field. But Eric is also a remarkably gifted runner, and he wants to try his hand (and legs) at the Olympic track events before he returns to China.
The two men are headed toward an inevitable showdown, and their individual efforts comprise much of the film’s early scenes.
But the movie is about more than running and winning. That’s the obvious theme, the WHAT of the story. As the plot moves forward, a more subtle sub-theme emerges. The essence of the movie is the WHY.
Why were these men willing to spend so many lonely hours in the painful pursuit of a minute or two of glory that may not even happen? A lot of people lust after a moment in the spotlight, but few are willing to put in the kind of grueling work these two did. There must be something deeper.
Perhaps the reason was revealed in a dinner conversation between Harold and Sybil Gordon, a talented singer/actress who eventually became his wife.
On their first date, she asks him, “Why running?”
He responds, “Why singing?”
“It’s my job,” she replies, but then immediately pauses and reflects. “No, that’s silly. I do it because I love it.”
Several scenes later, Eric has a conversation with his sister who is urging him to give up running to return to the mission field. Trying to make her understand his desire to compete in the Olympics, Eric says, “I believe that God made me for a purpose, for China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
* * *
Running and writing have a lot in common. To be serious in either field requires discipline, hard work, and perseverance. The runner paces himself/herself through long distances one step at a time just as the writer progresses word-by-word through his or her story. Along the way, one must develop the ability to deal with frustration, injury (running) or rejection (writing). These attributes are not for the faint of heart.
Now there’s no doubt the benefits in both areas are profound. Runners and writers enjoy time alone to explore their thought-worlds. Runners experience improved health, a sense of well-being, and even a boost to creativity. Writers often find a deeper meaning in their own existence when they offer the gift of their creative talent to the world. They might even make some money.
But is there something more? Like the runners in Chariots of Fire, serious writers seem to have a devotion to their chosen activity that transcends worldly reward. Perhaps it’s natural talent that draws them in, but there must be something deeper to hold them. Is it the challenge? The possibility of riches? The lure of fame? Is it the desire to create, to give a gift of oneself to a troubled world? Or is it simply the love of the craft?
* * *
The TKZ community is made up of writers who run the gamut from the relatively new like me to best-selling authors and authorities in the field. So there must be a variety of opinions on why each of us writes. I’d like to know. Why do you write?
“Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” — Ian Charlson in the role of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire.
* * *
Saving One Life Is Like Saving the Whole World
Kathryn and Cece find themselves in another tangled web searching for a killer in order to save the life of a friend. Could the dead man’s watch hold the key to the mystery?
I don’t know why I write or sing or act. I guess it’s just who I am.
“It’s just who I am.” I can’t think of a better reason. Good luck in all your writing, Cynthia.
Charlotte Brontë said, “I write because I cannot NOT write.” (I had to look up the attribution…?)
It’s almost aural – there’s something about the way words fall together that makes me notice them and want to explore them on the page so that others can “hear” it as well.
The same holds true about why I paint – light and color combine and catch my eye in a certain way and I feel I should “save” it by hand as opposed to digitally on the camera phone (which all to often gives a “meh” image…)
Of course, not all jots and scribbles and scrawls and such lead to “anything,” and sometimes, I fear, I’m afraid of not doing the words or the view justice, but I realize there’s no justice for ’em in not at least trying…
I love that quote from Charlotte Bronte. She said what so many of us feel — there’s not another option.
Your comment added another dimension. “there’s something about the way words fall together that makes me notice them and want to explore them on the page so that others can “hear” it as well.” Wow. You nailed it and I know exactly what you mean. (I also identify with writing lots of words that just don’t work. Thank goodness for the delete key.)
Kay! Welcome to your newly-minted alternate Monday post at TKZ! Thanks for starting off your regular contributions with a great question.
I will admit to being a cinematic heathen, having never seen Chariots of Fire, since it didn’t involve Harold and Eric trying to murder each other the night before their big race, but might have to give it a look after your description.
I will confess that I don’t have an answer to your inquiry. I just know that I was writing before I could write. My earliest memory of doing this was in Kindergarten when we were doing watercolors. I showed Mrs. Keathley my artwork, a multi-colored collage of runny streaks, and seriously explained what was going on. It involved cowboys, Indians, the police, and The Hardy Boys, who were the subject of a serial on The Mickey Mouse Club. She listened intently while nodding her head. Mrs. Keathley was really old (probably in her mid-40s) and had probably heard and seen it all.
Good morning, Joe, and thank you for the warm welcome. I’m honored to be here.
In some ways, a foot race is the gentlemanly way to murder your opponent. 🙂 So I recommend the movie from that perspective.
I love your story about kindergarten. I could envision little Joe Hartlaub holding his masterpiece up and explaining it to the teacher. I hope Mrs. Keathley appreciated the artistic genius.
Have a great day, Joe.
Great post, Kay. I write because I love my characters and I’m curious about them and their lives. I write literally to find out what happens next.
Good morning, Harvey. I love the respect you have for your characters to let them tell their stories. What a great reason to write and share those stories with the world.
One of the surprises I’ve had as a relatively new author is the way a character can take over and say or do things I didn’t anticipate. Sometimes I feel like I’m just recording what I see and hear them doing.
Exactly. Even King says he’s the “stenographer” for his characters. To my way of thinking, the characters live their stories just as my neighbors or anyone else live theirs. I don’t tell them what to do or say. I just record it and am glad they invited me into the trenches to run through the story with them. Great fun.
Welcome aboard, Kay! I also love Chariots of Fire. I haven’t seen it in a while, but as I recall the main reason Harold Abrahams wanted to win was to stick it to the rampant anti-semitism he faced. So he did things with a chip on his shoulder. He always had something to prove.
Thus, there can be more than one motive for writing. Joy, to make money, to prove to the doubters you can do it, etc.
To sustain a career, however, love of writing has to be present because there are too dang many opportunities to quit.
Good morning, Jim, and thanks for the welcome. I’m very honored to be here.
Yeah, Harold Abrahams was a complicated man with something to prove. Do you remember the scene when he first loses a race to Liddell? Abrahams is almost destroyed by his defeat, and he complains to his girl friend, “If I can’t win, I won’t run.” She responds, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.” Wise woman.
I agree that the bottom line is loving the craft.
Welcome, Kay. I took up writing later in life than most. It was never a goal; I didn’t write my first book in crayon. It was a creative outlet after I ran out of room on my walls for needlepoint. It resonated, and I’m happy when I’m writing (despite all the hair-pulling and floor-stomping), and I’m not happy when I’m not writing.
And, if I wasn’t writing, I’d have to clean the toilets.
Good morning, Terry, and thanks for the welcome. It’s great to be here.
I love your story about running out of room on the walls for your needlepoint. Every writer I’ve met has a strong desire to create, and most are willing to endure the “hair-pulling and floor-stomping” to satisfy that need. That’s some kind of attraction that keeps us putting words on paper.
You should do a post on needlepoint sometime. There must be a way to tie it into the craft of writing. 🙂 Besides, I’d like to see pictures of some of your creations.
Welcome to your new TKZ position, Kay!
Great post. It makes me want to watch the movie again.
It’s always good to reflect on what motivates us in an endeavor, especially when that endeavor requires a huge commitment of time and energy. When people ask me the big “Why writing?” question, I usually answer quickly that I want to leave a legacy for my descendants. But when I dig deeper, I realize that there is more to it.
I’ve always enjoyed creative endeavors that have meandered through landscape design, to architecture, to building furniture, to woodturning, to photography, to music. But I never really understood the common denominator of creativity until I turned to writing in a serious way. It suddenly hit me; where else can you create anything out of nothing more than your imagination and a way to record it? What power to play the omnipotent creator of the written story. And the process of producing that story is a pleasure that, in itself, is addictive.
Thanks for making us reflect on our journey, a good thing to do as we near the beginning of another year.
Have a great day!
Thanks for the kind welcome, Steve. I’m so grateful to be here.
I’ve heard you say before that you’re writing stories for your descendants. What a beautiful legacy that is.
But I know what you mean about there being something more. To create a world from your own imagination and use words to present it to others is a wonderful gift. You put it so well: “And the process of producing that story is a pleasure that, in itself, is addictive.”
Have a great day.
Welcome, Kay! That question of WHY is a terrific kickoff for your first regular post at TKZ.
My answers to why write are echoes of several comments above: “I can’t not write.” “It’s who I am.” “[Find out] what happens next.”
“A character can take over and say or do things I didn’t anticipate.” That’s the whipped cream, nuts, and cherry on top when I’m writing.
Why crime fiction? B/c I can dispense justice on the page that rarely happens in real life.
One unanticipated reward from being with TKZ has been building connections with readers. After years in magazine/newspaper writing, where reader feedback was rare, I enjoy instantly hearing what readers think and interacting with them. So add communication and connection to the list as more reasons.
Steve’s answer best hits the root of why I write. Creativity is a powerful drive. The sense of accomplishment of creating something tangible and meaningful out of nothing except the imagination is addictive.
Glad to have you onboard at TKZ, Kay!
Good morning, Debbie, and thanks for the kind welcoming words. It’s an honor to be here.
Everything that’s been said here has resonated with me. However, you hit on something I hadn’t thought about, but it’s fundamental: “I can dispense justice on the page that rarely happens in real life.” Yes!
Also, the ability to communicate and build relationships with readers and other writers is another plus I hadn’t thought of. it’s a pleasure to interact with people who come at life from different perspectives and enjoy the written word.
Having the power to create is a breathtaking concept.
Welcome, Kay! It’s wonderful to receive the email for today’s post and see it’s your first regular one. And what a wonderful one it is. Like Steve noted above, it’s great to know why we are committed to a particular endeavor. I started out wanting to pretend on paper, and then as I went along, to write the sort of thing I liked to read.
Now, after publishing a number of books and stories, I want to share an emotional experience. My first fiction writing mentor, who I met when in 2008, told me that there’s only one rule of fiction: make the reader feel. All the other parts of craft are guidelines. Early last fall I realized I really want to write that library mystery series I’d been idly thinking about for years, and recreate the world of the library back when I first joined it, in the 1980s. Help the reader feel what that was like, in the context of mysteries.
I needed your question this morning as I continue revising that mystery. Thank you! I look forward to your next post. Have a great Monday!
Good morning, Dale, and thank you for the welcoming words.
You hit on another great goal: “Help the reader feel what that was like, in the context of mysteries.” To develop a well-structured story that evokes strong emotion in the reader is the crossroads between the art and the craft of fiction-writing. I’m glad you’re working on your mystery series, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Have a great day.
I write because I’m afraid not to. It fills a void in my life, and is the only time I get to be creative.
Good morning, Ben.
“I write because I’m afraid not to.” You’ve hit on another great point. If we have the need and we develop the ability, it would be a mistake to ignore it.
Good luck in all your writing, Ben.
Welcome, Kay! Nice to have you on the team. 🙂
To answer your question, I write because I can’t not write. It’s part of me, a longing deep in my soul, an ache I heal through the written word. I can’t even imagine a life without writing. It’s also the best profession in the world. Difficult at times, yes, but also magical in many ways. Writers, I believe, should never let go of those magical threads. Otherwise, it’s too easy to walk away.
Good morning, Sue, and thanks for the welcome. I am so excited to be a part of this incredible group.
“I write because I can’t not write.” This seems to be a common theme among us. But you bring out another great point. “Difficult at times, yes, but also magical in many ways.” There is something about the joy of writing that’s unexplainable. Magic is a good word for it. Thanks!
Great post, my friend!
Why do I write? Let me count the ways . . . no, not really.
I had to think about this for a moment. Yes, I want to leave a legacy. Yes, I want to entertain. Yes, I want to use all the gifts I’ve been blessed with. (Evidently, those gifts don’t include how to construct a sentence that doesn’t end in “with”.)
All those things. But down there in the bottom of the why well is this: I write stories to try to figure out my own life, who I am. Maybe that’s narcissistic, but it’s honest.
Have a great week, Kay!
Good morning, Deb. You always manage to bring a smile to my face with your comments!
You’re in good company with your comment about figuring out your own life. I recently interviewed Martha Alderson, the author of “The Plot Whisperer” on my blog. Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of her book: “Why is writing important? Because it teaches you about yourself, expands your horizons, and challenges you to discover new truths.”
I had to think about that for a while, but I realized self-discovery is an important part of writing, even if you’re writing fiction. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I believe through my writing, and I agree with you that’s an important reason to write.
Have a good writing / discovering day!
I write because it is all I ever wanted to do, even when I worked F/T as a journalist and later, including now, in media relations. I have a sister who is five years older than me, and my mother told me that when she came home from school in first grade and sat copying her letters at the dining room table, I sat there with her scribbling in a folded piece of paper and told them I was writing a book. I am just very grateful that I got some level of competency to go along with my dream, since it is the one and only thing I wanted to do with my professional life.
Good morning, Margaret.
Wow. What a wonderful gift you’ve been given: to know from childhood that writing was your destiny. And then to have a career in your chosen field. Good for you!
I hope you’ll share some of your writing with us. I look forward to reading it.
Have a wonderful day.
This is a superbly well-written piece, Kay. You’re an excellent team member here at TKZ.
The first thing popping into my mind was “I cannot NOT write” but I see I have to get up earlier to be original with that. I just asked my soul why I write and it said it was because I’m a word junkie. There is nothing like getting in the zone-fix, losing track of time, and being rewarded by 3,000 words typed off. Enjoy your day!
Good morning, Garry, and thanks for the kind words. I’m going to have to bring my A game to TKZ just to keep up with the rest of you!
As a fellow word junkie, I know what you mean. Losing track of time because you’re in the zone is a wonderful feeling. (Although I don’t think I’ve ever turned out 3,000 words at one time. That’s amazing.)
“You have a great day as well,” she said while wondering if she’d ever have a 3,000 word day! 🙂
Very deep, Kay… very deep. And I can still hear that movie theme music in my head!
At this point in my life—and at the core—I’m not a “writer.” I’m a “packager of entertainment content.” Writing is part of that, of course, and I do enjoy improving my writing craft, but I also relish the other parts of my Indie world: inventing the concepts and premises, designing the covers, creating the marketing blurbs, and lately, restarting my TV/movie adaptation rights negotiations. All of it gets me up in the morning, ready to face another day on our collective orbit around the sun.
Thanks for the kind words, Harald. Yes, the theme music from the movie is memorable. My husband and I compete in the Senior Games and we made a short and (I hope) amusing video of our experiences at the national competition in Minneapolis in 2015. I chose the theme from “Chariots of Fire” to accompany my 400-meter track event. (One can always dream.)
You bring up another great point. We all have to be concerned with the other parts of writing: cover design, marketing, etc. I guess that’s the place where art meets the real world. If readers don’t know about our work, we’re missing an opportunity. (And let us know what’s going on with those TV/movie rights.)
Have a great day.
I teach because I feel God’s pleasure when I teach. Writing, for me, is an extension of teaching. It is a gift from God that I’m honored to use for His glory. Thank you so much for your encouragement and for this great lesson!
Good morning, Kim, and thank you for your comment.
“I feel God’s pleasure when I teach.” Such a powerful statement. To feel your actions fit into a higher calling is beyond amazing.
I believe writing is a gift given to virtually everyone. And we have the opportunity to use it today in ways no one would have dreamed a century ago. So glad to hear you’re using your talents for God’s glory.
Welcome to the scrum, Kay!
Clearly, I need to watch Chariots of Fire again, because when I saw it in the theater lo those many years ago, I thought it would never end! All I remember is a lot of slow-mo and swelling music. When it won Best Picture in 1982, I remember thinking that Raiders of the Lost Ark and On Golden Pond (also nominated) were more entertaining films.
And thanks for inspiring my TKZ post for next week!
Good morning, John, and thank you for the welcome. I have to admit I had to look up the word “scrum.” Now I feel empowered.
I guess we each have our own appreciation scale. I knew the movie won Best Picture, but didn’t realize the other wonderful films that were nominated. 1982 was a very good year.
Now you’ve piqued my interest. I’m looking forward to your TKZ post next week.
The short story “Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe is also a great metaphor for writing because it is lonely and an escape for many of us. Plus, anyone whose last name is Silly Toe should write about running.
My most important bit of advice for new writers is that, first and foremost, you must love the act of writing. If you don’t sit at the computer every day and love what you are doing, even when it is hard, the writing and the career aren’t worth it. Most of us never make much money or achieve fame, but we are doing what we love so all the bad things about a writing career and the good things we give up every day to write are worth it.
Great advice, Marilynn. To write without the love of it would be like someone running a marathon just to get the medal. It’s not worth the time, pain, and effort unless there’s something more.
I had heard of “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” but I haven’t read it. Looking online now. Thanks.
I write because if I do not, they will come into our world with their hatred, and their havoc, and their overcooked pasta spirals!
Please keep writing. I’ll sleep better knowing you’re out there protecting us all. 🙂
Stay safe and don’t eat any pasta.
Were it not for writing, personally I’d probably be dying in my soul from an at times soul crushing Gummint IT career with nothing to look forward to but retiring with a decent pension only to have my my life server decommisioned shortly after, and immediately logging off for the last time forever.
Computer systems as a metaphor for life! I love this. Maybe there’s a sci-fi book where people are transformed into operating systems.
That said, in all honesty, I too do what I do because God created me to do it. I have been a story teller in one form or another since my earliest childhood memories. Just as some people are created as craftsmen, and others as doctors, laborers, professors, gardeners, and so on, so too those of us from whom story erupts unbidden, will only find peace when we settle down to a blank page and left the story roll out. To deny the outlet of story telling, would be to condemn the writer’s soul to the most vile of dungeons.
I had intended to put the following in the previous comment, but fingers and brain went separate ways, and edit ain’t a thing here.
I also love recording audiobooks, which is another form of storytelling parallel to writing. And it is also a slog, sitting in a dark box all alone, reading other people’s worlds of words aloud for days on end, with naught by the voices in my head to tell me the story. Pure joy, says we.
To have the gift of story-telling from childhood is a wonderful thing. I’m glad you’ve decided to use it well.
I enjoyed your audiobook “Appetizers of the gods.” Your various voice characterizations were delightful.
Kay, from the standpoint of this writer and long distance runner, and with a line stolen from some anonymous writer at a conference, I write because “I can’t not write.”
Good afternoon, Tim, and thanks for stopping in.
Writing certainly has a lot in common with long-distance running. As I read the comments here, many of us have an intrinsic need to write. Makes me all the more grateful that I live in this time and place.
A friend was in the theater when an elderly couple entered a bit late, and sat there, watching the movie with looks of wonder and disbelief. This was 1981, and, instead of Chariots of Fire, the couple had wandered into Quest for Fire. I sometimes think I’m in the wrong theater, too.
My dad, an MD, collected books, thousands of them. I sometimes spent all day in our library. In fifth grade, my teacher whispered to me that I was reading at 10th grade level. I decided that this was irrelevant to my life, and forgot about it.
Abelard wrote to Heloise, “Against writing, one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease.” But on one of my planets, there are 20 Commandments, their Moses having never smashed the tablets and had to reproduce them from memory. Number 11 is: ???? ????? ??????.
John Mason Brown referred to writing in 1949 as “pleasant agony.” I can’t improve on that, nor do I have a better metaphor than running.
Really, I don’t like writing as much as I like having written. Wealth and fame are on back-order. A wise man once told me, “Did you ever notice that all works that disparage fame as a life-goal are signed?”
Why do I write, really? Do I even want to? Or is it the desire of that frightening and autonomous network within that I call “The Guardienne?” I’ll probably never know. Laughter is music to me, and tears, the same. Only tears can free us from our ultimate sadnesses, and out of darkness shine the stars. So I write for tears and laughter. I’d write for money, but I don’t know how.
You gave me a lot to think about in your comments, JGuenther. I like the phrase “pleasant agony.” I suspect we can all identify.
Writing for tears and laughter seems like a pretty good calling, with or without the money.
Good luck with your writing.
Oh, such a provocative question, Kay. Welcome to your new TKZ sage spot.
At first thought, I write because I have to. But something made me dive deeper. I write because the characters in my head become so real that I feel their irresistible need for someone besides me to know their story. So together, we unveil their worlds and lives. They leave me hoping I’ve done my utmost to honor their illusory existence.
Thanks for the welcome, Suzanne.
Nice description. Releasing those characters so they can tell their stories is very satisfying. I like the way you put it: “So together, we unveil their worlds and lives.”
Well I can’t claim the adage “I can’t NOT write” because I spend significant chunks of my life not writing (like the current creativity-is-dead phase I’m in–no writing, no visual art right now).
I write because it’s hard to study history and not come up with story ideas. I write because I’m a picky reader and have a hard time finding the type of fiction I like (i.e. I typically like the opposite of whatever is popular).
I write because it’s a wonderful solitary activity and I just love to immerse myself in creating and examining story possibilities and seeing where I can take characters. A well written story makes people think without realizing they’ve been prompted to think about something.
There may be other reasons I’m not thinking of at the moment, but those are the key ones.
All great reasons, BK. I particularly liked “A well written story makes people think without realizing they’ve been prompted to think about something.” To make a story both entertaining and thought-provoking is a difficult task, at least for me. But it’s a worthy goal. Thanks for reminding us.
So glad to see you as a regular on TKZ, Kay! I certainly enjoyed my tenure there, several years back. Excellent first post! Makes me want to watch that movie again. I’m mostly an editor, but I wrote my three writing guides to help writers write books that more readers would want to read. So I guess we all play our parts!
Hello Jodie! Thank you for the kind words.
You make a great point: your books enable other authors to do a better job writing theirs. An indispensable role. I got so much out of your craft book “Fire Up Your Fiction,” and you reminded me that there are others who have written books (I’m thinking of JSB’s craft books) that have made me a better writer.
Thanks for bringing this up. It’s a wonderful addition to the conversation. Have a good evening.
I taught online for 15 years and I always thought that the most powerful motivator for a student was that person in the background telling them that they’d never amount to anything and were just not good enough.
When I write a story that I know is good it’s me grinding my grubby thumb in that person’s eye.
Bear in mind I’m just pulling out of the station on this train and have no idea where it’s going but I’ve always been one to spend my time looking out the windows.
Robert, I love your attitude: ” I always thought that the most powerful motivator for a student was that person in the background telling them that they’d never amount to anything and were just not good enough.”
If a writer can get develop the attitude “I’ll show you,” it should go a long way to overcome the hurt.
Keep on chugging and let us know where that train ends up.
Hi Kay and congratulations on your very first TKZ post! It was a great one and what a big response it had. I’m late to the party – sorry! busy week – but I thoroughly enjoyed reading your observations and each of the comments. I particularly loved this line about why writers write, “Perhaps it’s natural talent that draws them in, but there must be something deeper to hold them.” So true that natural talent is merely a starting point; it takes a lot more to hold with writing.
Why do I write? The reasons for starting seem to vary with each book, but the things that hold me, eventually, are the characters and their world. Even though they all come out of me, there’s a sort of creative synergy that happens that seems bigger than me. And it feeds me. I think that dynamic is the thing that keeps me coming back to the keyboard for more.
Thank you again. So proud for you, sister!
Hi Lisa! I’m so glad you stopped in.
I love this line in your comment: “creative synergy that happens that seems bigger than me.” I know that feeling and you expressed it so well.
Keep writing. I’m looking forward to that next book!