Thought for the week: If I freeze at the start, I will surely never finish.
I write for sanity, but I run for fitness. I seem to lack coordination for any other form of exercise. I have tried group exercise classes, perhaps you have seen my kind, the one capsizing in the warrior pose, knocking down the perfect yoga poser next to me or zigging in Zumba when everyone else is zagging. So I run. It is relatively safe. Although, on occasion I have tripped over my own feet and wiped out, sprawled on the concrete, it is a rare occurrence.
Since I began both hobbies at an early age, I see parallels in my life between running and writing. I wrote for years before ever thinking about going public and I ran for years before ever entering my first official race, terrified of being last, thinking I should be a ‘real’ runner to compete in a community race. Not true. Anyone can run a 5K; some do it without any training at all, although I would not recommend that unless you enjoy being sore for days afterward.
The more races I ran, the more comfortable I became as a runner. At the finish line, there were always people ahead of me and always people behind me. After years of racing, I decided to push myself a little harder and trained over several weeks to run a ten-mile run, The Blessing of the Feet, in Narragansett, RI. Guess what? I was not last.
Eventually I even got faster. I won a third place medal for women in my age group, two years running, in the Keep Your Colon Rolling 5K in Southern Maryland. Now there is a T-shirt to wear proudly! The race raises money for colon cancer research, a good cause and no joke; I have lost family members to this disease. Granted it is a small race and I was competing against a tiny group, but it was an accomplishment for me to place.
Around this same time, feeling triumphant, I wrote a sample story, sent it to Bay Weekly, a local paper, and received an e-mail back from the Editor, which led to roughly two years of freelance writing. The paper with an estimated circulation of about 50,000 and I was an infrequent contributor at best, but published.
The first time I saw my words in print and my name on the byline, I was both nervous and ecstatic. I walked around town a little prouder. Still, I fretted about public recognition. Once, while sitting in a local restaurant, the customer at the table next to me was reading one of my articles including photos of myself and family members and yet, I still went unrecognized. Amazing! My fear of publishing and the remains of my ego quickly dissipated.
I was content for some time, running and writing, doing two things I loved. I marveled at marathon runners the same way I marveled at novelists. I could never do those things; I was a short distance runner and a short story and essay writer. Then one day, I thought, if I can run ten miles, maybe I could write a novel. I started writing, only a few pages at first. I put the project down for weeks, coming back to it and then writing some more. It took ages to write the first ten thousand words. It was a start.
Years later, my family and I moved to Italy. I was still running, still writing here and there but still nowhere near completing the novel. A friend asked me to train with her for the Rome to Ostia half marathon. Me, run a half marathon? Well, I ran a ten mile race once. I trained, progressively adding miles to my training over several weeks. At the midpoint of my training, I developed runner’s knee and thought I was doomed, but I rested, used alternate training methods and quickly started training again. After months of preparation, I ran the race with my friend and finished in a respectable amount of time. I was not last. It was a proud moment.
By conquering my inner running demons, I realized that I had always possessed the stamina and the self-discipline to do whatever I set my mind to, including finishing my novel. What I lacked was courage and commitment. To compete at the half marathon level, training almost every day was essential, just as completing a novel requires consistent daily writing.
I challenged myself to write every week. I began with a weekly goal of ten hours. Vigilance was difficult with so many distractions, responsibilities, family, friends, and fun. Life gets in the way of writing. I had a single-minded goal and remained fixated on that. Before long, I was writing twenty hours per week, sometimes at night, weekends, early in the morning, when I could steal time. Finally, I completed the novel. It did in fact, take years, but maybe, had I begun sooner, with more focus, it would not have.
Polishing and publishing it is another story, hopefully a shorter one.
Now I have characters waking me at night when I am trying to sleep. While standing in line at the grocery store, I daydream about plots. When I meet someone new, I immediately start thinking about what a great character he or she might be in my next book. On non-writing days, I am cranky; I take this as a sign that writing is essential to my mental health.
Consistency, creating your own rhythm, I believe, is the secret to writing, not only talent and education, although these are helpful. This is the one piece of advice I have seen appear with frequency in author interviews. It makes sense. It sounds simple. However, it requires sacrifice to make writing a priority, especially without income attached.
Becoming a published novelist is an entirely different bag of worms, but I cannot allow that to steal my momentum. In addition, about those nagging doubts whether the novel is ever truly finished, I continue to make changes. It is all part of the process. However, I started writing a second novel, in the midst of tweaking the first, so as not to waste time staring at blank pages. The second is nearly finished and considerably more expeditiously than the first. What do you know?
I no longer count the hours. I write every chance I have. Some days, while my children are at school, I look up from the computer screen to realize hours have passed. In my mind, I have stopped considering writing a hobby and begun thinking of it as a serious profession. As for hobbies, I still have running, the one thing that quiets my mind, offering solace, a refuge, an escape. Someday, maybe I will run a full marathon, but first, I have a few novels to finish!
So, you want to write a novel. What are you waiting for? On your mark, get set, you know the rest!
Thank you for reading and keep writing!
Yet to come: Writers Group, Momentum, My First Writers Conference, Query Letter Hell and Seeking Support: Surprises and Stumbling Blocks