As I ran, I was reminded once again how so many of the lessons I have learned from long-distance running are directly applicable to novel writing. I am not the first person to make this observation–fabulous books have been written on the subject. Nonetheless, here’s my version because I need the reminder.
After all, my next book is due June 1st. That’s 12 days from now. Not that I’m counting.
So here goes:
1. Ignore people who do things differently than you. I was the only person sitting in the holding area for the hour we had to wait before the race started. Made perfect sense to me. Why tire your legs? But I did get a lot of looks. Still, it was 100% right for me and wrong apparently for everybody else. Same with writing–outline, don’t outline, listen to music, require utter silence. Wear a stupid hat. Do whatever you need to do to get the job done. It does not matter what anyone else does or what they think.
2. Don’t worry about mile 13 when you are at mile one. It’s just not helpful. Listen to the ever-so-wise Anne Lamott: Bird-By-Bird folks. It’s the only way to go.
3. The beginning will SUCK.
4. The middle will SUCK WORSE. This has no bearing on how the end will turn out.
5. Ignore people for whom it seems to come easier. Celebrate their victory. Or, if you are unable to do so, blame their longer legs, their better shoes, their years of tutelage. Baring that, convince yourself that—deep down—they are crying inside.
6. If a stranger offers you a high five en route TAKE IT. Even if it is not meant for you and they try to dodge you. You NEED all the encouragement you can get. Even that which must be taken by force.
7. Do NOT stop halfway. Do NOT stop when you are almost there. You can slow down if you need to, catch your breath. I know, I know, just a little rest is all you need that little voice in your head is saying. Trust me, that is not your voice you’re hearing, it’s the devil’s. And you have one option: RUN LIKE HELL.
8. Do not step on all those little power gel packets by the nutrition station–they will make your shoes sticky for the rest of the race. This has nothing to do with writing, but it’s true. And it’s disgusting.
9. Bribe yourself—to run one more mile, write one more sentence, work one more hour. Coffee, jelly-beans, extra TV, sleep—illicit things work well to, but I’ll leave those for you all to sort out. Bottom line: make all sorts of promises about how you will reward yourself when it is all over—then just be sure to keep them. You need to believe yourself the next time around.
10. Make sure you have someone waiting there at the end. Thinking about reaching them really is the best cure when things get seriously dark. And when you do finally get there, you’re going to need them to prop you up.
11. You will cry. At the beginning probably. Definitely near the end. Don’t panic. This is totally normal.
12. Hold tight to even the tinniest of victories. No matter what anyone else says, no matter what the future holds –those will forever be yours to keep.
My small victory this time was the four minutes I shaved off my–even still–pretty slow time. I came in 525 in my age group and 15003 overall–not exactly stats to write home about (though my kids seemed pleased I didn’t come in dead last)
Today, when I sit down to finish this manuscript that I have labored months over, I know that the going may get tough once more. But today, I will have a secret weapon. I will have those four minutes. And the knowledge that I know exactly what to do if it all starts to fall apart: Run Like Hell