Writing a book is hard, and co-writing one presents its own unique challenges and rewards, as Tina and Zoë Rom discovered when they wrote Becoming a Sustainable Runner. Becoming a Sustainable Runner takes a holistic approach to sustainability, recognizing that our personal well-being is deeply intertwined with our relationships and the health of our planet. It’s available now!
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Zoë and Tina agree that simply applying oneself to the task at hand is the hardest part of writing. “Stephen King, one of my favorite writers and someone who’s written really eloquently about writing, says that the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair,” Zoë says. “And I had a Post-It note above my desk for so long that just said, ‘Ass in the chair.’ When you’re running an ultra, you’ve got all sorts of people out there supporting you, cheering you on, handing you snacks, and with a book, it’s kind of just you. It takes a lot of discipline to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair day after day after day.”
Tina agrees. “It’s hard not to be like, ‘I really need to do laundry because I need this shirt for tomorrow, so I better do it now’ or ‘I think I’m hungry. So maybe I should get myself a snack because if I’m fueled then I’m gonna be typing better. And then you get distracted by, ‘Oh, well, I’m down here, I see some crumbs on the floor. I’m just gonna vacuum those up.’ You’ll find any excuse to not go back to it.”
Co-writing means that not only does an author have to get their own words onto the page, they also have to blend them with someone else’s, to feel, as Zoë says, like “a singular voice and vision.” Zoë and Tina accomplished that by each starting a different chapter, then swapping. It was a challenge, but it worked.
Still, Zoë acknowledges, even though it got easier as time went on, collaborating adds another layer to an author’s usual ego struggle. “I want to manage how people perceive me on the page. And you have to relinquish a lot of that control, not just from co-writing something, but any time you’re writing something, because half of the experience is what you write. And the other half is how the reader interprets your writing. And so I think that was both a challenge and a really humbling and freeing opportunity.”
The challenge was compounded for Zoë by experiences at work. “Working as a female journalist in the world of endurance sports, I was dealing with some pretty intensive harassment and really struggled with owning my voice because any time I put my voice out in the world, it was getting a lot of really gnarly, challenging pushback. But yet to get this book created, I had to continue to push my voice forward. So that was really scary for me because at work, I was encountering this feeling of total self-censorship. I just felt like any time I did anything, it was ammunition for people who don’t care about me. And in order to get this project done, I had to continue to show up vulnerably, authentically, imperfectly, and just accept that some people in bad faith are gonna interpret it however they’re going to interpret it. But our shared vision transcended that discomfort, and my belief in the message that we are putting forward transcended the momentary discomfort of, ‘Yeah, people on the internet are just gonna be people on the internet’ and that’s not a good reason to self-censor. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by weaponizing your own editor brain against yourself.”
“I’ve talked a lot about this with other people about how I’m trying, I wouldn’t say bracing myself, but I know there are gonna be some nasty comments coming our way,” Tina concurs. “Those people have a lot going on internally and are looking for ways to lash out, to get some of that frustration out. And with the context of this book, that’s one of the reasons we wanted to show people that it’s not about finger pointing at one another. It’s not about trying to be the perfect environmentalist, the perfect runner, or any of it, but it’s about doing the best that you can, leaning into the discomfort of knowing that you’re not the best at this and that is okay. Whereas those people that are gonna say those things are people who are really struggling to get to that place.”
Successfully writing together has been a microcosm of Tina and Zoë’s friendship. “One thing you and I have been very good for one another is pushing back, pushing ideas, helping one another to be the best versions of ourselves, not just within this context of book writing, but as humans as a whole,” Tina tells Zoë.
“I have really seen the importance in the last five or so years of finding people who do that. There’s accepting you for who you are, but then there’s also, ‘I love you for who you are, but I will want the best for you.’ And Ryan Montgomery gave me a really good example of Anna Mae Flynn, his coach and friend, saying to him at a struggle point in Western States, ‘You’ve got to push right now,’ and recognizing that he needed to be pushed in that moment, rather than saying, ‘Okay, you’re doing the best you can; let off the gas.’ And that allowed him to get to where he was able to push on and finish eighth overall. That’s something that this friendship has really brought to me is that growth mindset and knowing when to push one another and knowing when to just be like, ‘Let’s hold up and hold on through this part.’”
“Being able to motivate people according to their values, I think is an amazing way that we can show affection and love for folks,” Zoë says. “Like saying, ‘I know what you’re capable of, and that’s not what you’re doing right now. Remember why you got into this? Here’s your value, here’s what I think you’re really capable of. Let’s get there together.’”
As Zoë and Tina have talked about Becoming a Sustainable Runner, they’ve discovered that many people are surprised by its depth. They assumed that “sustainable” referred only to environmental sustainability, when in fact, the book is divided into three parts. The first addresses being an individual lifelong runner; the second looks at being part of the running community; and the final section is about being a good environmental steward.
Zoë describes the book’s thesis as “a three-legged stool.” “Without all three legs of self, community, and planet standing strong, then the thing doesn’t really stand up. So our argument is premised on understanding that all of these things are interrelated and necessarily depend on each other. And I think that that’s a really compelling argument.
“I think it makes our book pretty unique that we try to put all of those things in context and in relationship with each other. And I think people are so used to seeing a book that only tries to make one argument, like taking care of yourself is the most important thing or taking care of your planet is the only thing that matters. We wanted to write a book that was like, ‘Yes and…’ to all of that.”
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Thank you to 2before, Becoming a Sustainable Runner, and Tracksmith for sponsoring this episode.
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Are you a runner? Do you care about the planet you run on? Would you like to use running to change the world for the better?
Becoming a Sustainable Runner will show you how.
Becoming a Sustainable Runner, by Tina Muir and Zoë Rom, is a practical guide for runners of all abilities and backgrounds who want to take meaningful action to protect our planet through their love of the sport. It’s available now -go here to learn more!
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