Friday, August 25, 2017

Writing a Book: The Running Approach

Once, a long long time ago, I took up running. I had to lose weight, I'm antisocial(ish), and I love listening to music, so I thought "why not? It's a good fit." I printed (printed! ha! Okay, so now I'm dating myself) out a beginning runners calendar and hit the road.

And I got frustrated. It was hard. Really, super, intensely hard. I tried to do 30 seconds and couldn't. I tried to do 20 seconds. And I couldn't. I tried 15 seconds. That worked, so I stuck with it for a while. People passed me. I hated that. Grandmas passed me. Dads with strollers passed me as I tried not to die on my 15 second stretches (mixed with 2 minutes of walking).

For a time, I got so upset at my perceived failure that I almost gave up. For a time, I did give up. It wasn't for me, clearly. I wasn't any good at it. I wasn't improving fast enough.

But then something beautiful happened. I missed it when I gave it up, so I tried again. I focused on the music in my ears, and my breathing. I ignored the people passing me, and I started watching my own time, instead. 15 seconds turned into 30 seconds. 30 became 40. The next thing I realized, months had passed and I could now run 3 miles. I stopped huffing and puffing. I got faster, better. I enjoyed it. I learned to pass myself.

And then, and then...

I had kids. I was put on limited exercise throughout my pregnancies, and when I got back to running, I huffed and puffed again. I got passed. I couldn't run a mile without stopping.

I felt defeated. I got frustrated. It was hard. And I almost gave up. I hated moving backwards, losing the ground I fought so hard to cover. Nothing helped. Until I focused on one step again, one increment, one minute at a time. I'm not quite where I was pre-pregnancy, but that's not what I want anymore. I'm a different person, with different goals, and I want to run. So, I do.

Why am I mentioning this?

Because when I first started running, I wasn't just a "wanna be" runner. I was also a "wanna be" writer. I had a dozen ideas for books in my head, but I looked at a novel as one giant work that had to be accomplished in one giant leap. I didn't write, because I couldn't see the increments.

Then one day, as I started getting miles under my belt, I realized my writing journey could reflect my running journey. Instead of seeing the whole, finished book as my goal, I saw my characters. I started talking to them, having them tell me their stories. After that, I saw a single scene. I wrote that scene. Another followed it, then a chapter. A single chapter became 10, 10 became 20, and eventually I had a book.

It wasn't done, of course. The first draft is called a "draft" for a reason, but each edit chiseled more detail out of my lump of clay until I had a finished novel. The next book became easier, and the third was easier than the second.

And then, and then...

I had kids. You can probably see where I'm going with this by now. It took me two years to start writing again. For the longest time, I stared at a blinking cursor on a white page and felt certain I could no longer do it. The same longest time I couldn't run.

One foot in front of the other. One word after another. I pushed forward, with new goals, a different mentality, and a new appreciation for getting back into what makes me "me."

Of course, you know I finished my eighth full-length novel this month (the last in the Ærenden series). It's better than I had hoped. And this was my run today.

For reference, this was my run in April, when I decided not to let my setbacks stop me.

My point? I've had several people say to me recently that they have a great idea for a novel, but they could never write one. It's too long. It's too daunting. They don't know what they're doing. For those people, I want you to remember this: None of us knows what we're doing, not really. We learn every day, and we accomplish what we need by looking at the increments. Write 30 seconds. Write one character. Write one sentence. Break it down and build yourself up.

Before you know it, you'll have met your goal. After all, it's only you that you have to pass today.

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