Writing in Stride

Not to brag, but I’ve probably finished more than a dozen novels at the 14th Street YMCA in New York City. This is some feat since I don’t own a laptop computer and never bring paper or pens to the elliptical machine, where I huff and puff until I’ve burned 200 calories and turned bright red from the modest exertion. I can’t read, let alone write on the machine, since all the bobbing up and down makes me sick to my stomach, and until recently I haven’t even worn my glasses. How, you may ask, have I completed too many novels to count?

The beautiful thing about this particular YMCA is that the indoor track is as peaceful as it gets in a city blasting with sound. The lighting is soft and shadowy. With pale green carpeting underfoot and thick glass windows overlooking an Olympic-sized indoor pool, it’s easy to imagine you’re in a water world throbbing with graceful sea plants and the occasional mermaid.

Or woman who discovers a pearl at the bottom of the pool in her new house. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t know how to swim and is so terrified of drowning that she didn’t want to move into the palatial house her scoundrel of a husband insisted that they buy. She’s going after that pearl anyway. My latest novel appears whole and perfect in my mind as that lovely bluish gem.

Although maybe she’s really going after the pool guy, who’s sort of a hunk. He’s a lot nicer than her husband and offers to teach her to swim. I circle the track for the third time, hitting a comfortable stride, and a power walker tells me in passing that I’m doing it all wrong. To get a decent cardio workout I should add arms. I do, just so she’ll leave me alone, as my character discovers there’s a mysterious trap door right next to the pearl. She pulls it open ever so slowly and floats into a strange new world. As I finish another lap, I’m not sure that she’ll ever return.

Not that this matters to my husband, the editor, who gets to hear all about it that night. He rolls his eyes as if he already knows this story.

“Makes me think of Julia Roberts.”

“That was a movie.”

“Based on a novel. Anyway, you don’t write that kind of stuff.”

“I just did.”

“So how does she breathe?”

I hadn’t considered gills or whether all the water is drained from the pool when she opens the trap door. The beauty of writing a novel at the Y is that you don’t have to address these issues. The endorphin-driven genre doesn’t require a plausible plotline or believable characters and it has absolutely nothing to do with a tough marketplace because there is no marketplace at the Y. There is only a trail of limpid novels that you have produced, each one more masterful than the next, without really having to write them. The biggest part of your job, in fact your only job, is to keep moving around the track at your own crabbed pace until they’re done.