On Writing Novels and Running Marathons

marathonA few years ago, in a moment of insanity, I signed up for the Boulder Backroads Marathon. After trudging my way over the finish line, I made another arguably insane goal, to write a novel.

Running a marathon and writing a novel are two of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and the mental challenges are eerily similar:

Starting Line You’ve trained/outlined and you’re ready to put foot to pavement/fingers to keyboard. You’re rarin’ to go. Nothing will stand between you and crossing the finish line/typing The End!

Mile 6 You’re in a groove. You’ve settled into a solid pace/flushed out characters’ voices. You’re feeling confident and proud of how far you’ve come… But there’s still a long way to go.

Halfway Woo hoo! Party! But there’s that first twinge of pain and you’re thirsty, which means you’re already dehydrated. You just wrote the major Turning Point, but worry that it isn’t conflicty enough, strong enough, to carry the story to The End, which makes you question everything you’ve written. But you grab an extra dixie cup of water/get your ass back at your desk and carry on.

Mile 20 You hit a wall. Your marathon-loving friends warned you this would happen, but you didn’t believe it. After all, how could you hit a wall when you only have six miles left? But here’s the thing, there’s still six miles left. You despair. You’re running at a pitiful survival-trot pace which will never get you to the finish line. You’re convinced your novel sucks, that it’s unraveling with every crappy word you add. Words of encouragement from fellow runners/writers give you the boost you need to keep going.

Mile 25 You actually think about crawling into one of those ambulances they have lining the trail, not for health reasons, just to get a ride to the finish line. And you can see the finish line in the distance, so far away and yet so close. It seems like finishing the marathon/novel will take something from your soul, but you’ve come too far to give up now. You owe it to yourself and to your characters to finish what you started.

marathon2Finish Line You cross the finish line/type The End and cry for joy. Hopefully you have someone to share this triumphant moment with, and if you’re as lucky as I was, he’ll be waiting with a dozen roses and a humongous Chipotle burrito.

In the end, all the work, sweat, tears is absolutely worth it. And if you’re currently at Mile 20, the Dreaded Wall, here are some words of encouragement: Keep it up. You’re doing great and you will get there. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

What I’m reading: Killer Hair by Ellen Byerrum

What I’m listening to: Broken Bells – After the Disco