Stephen King is famously known to have claimed:
Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.
―Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
As an indie author currently in the throws of trying to complete my first full-length novel (planned length: 90,000 words), I can attest to the truth that lies in the famous quote.
Having run the Cardiff Half Marathon (21km / 13.1 Miles) last Sunday, it occurred to me that the struggle of pushing through the pain of my muscles contorting in the unexpected heat of a sunny autumn day, was probably just as challenging as the figurative crossing of an ocean in a bathtub – not that I have ever tried.
It took me 3 hours, 14 minutes and 46 seconds from start to finish line. Plenty of time for self-doubts and abundant internal monologue.
Sharing the track with approx. another 24,999 people, I came up with five common denominators between the struggle of writing fiction and the struggle of completing a Half Marathon.
1. Beginning is HARD
The first three miles leading to the first water station were hell. I remember seeing the 1 Mile mark and thinking crap, is that all? It didn’t help that somebody running behind me took the opportunity to shout “one down, twelve more miles to go!” – seriously?! That’s pretty much the same feeling I had about writing my first complete fiction chapter – Episode 1 of my paranormal teen fantasy ‘Songs of Lea’ (just under 15,000 words). I remember the feeling of typing for ages only to achieve a word count of around 1,500 words and thinking OK, now all I need is ten times this amount and Episode 1 is complete. I wanted to throw in the towel there and then (same as on my run) but I am glad that I didn’t.
2. ‘Pull’ is better than ‘push’
I remember getting my first taste of Half Marathon water just after mile number 3. It was one of the most delicious experiences of my life. For the cynics out there: yes, it was only water. The point is, experiencing how good it felt to take that first drink on the track, compares to how good it feels to complete a fiction chapter (or in my current case, episode). On Sunday, I was basically just running from water station to water station, creating ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’. The idea is that the outcome is so attractive that you don’t mind how long it takes to achieve your goal, you are going to persist. I am currently writing Episode 3 out of 6.
3. It’s going to hurt – a lot
Anybody who pretends that running a Half Marathon – or writing fiction – is a breeze is a liar. Having experienced both, I can honestly say that it is going to hurt and it is going to hurt pretty much the whole time. Every step and every word are going to take effort and will feel like a ridiculously futile attempt at going the distance. Just accept it. I know that indie authors are notorious for trying to cheat the system. There are hundreds of bogus solutions to writing your first novel easily and effortlessly using this trick or that tactic. The Half Marathon taught me that I can achieve my goals without having to look for shortcuts. On Sunday, there simply weren’t any. Trying to cut corners (or peeing on the track) was a surefire way to get disqualified. Indie authors have more scope to cheat but should take note that they might still get disqualified – eventually. Don’t do it. Be okay with the struggle and get on with it.
4. Other people are annoying
True for running and for writing. Other people are SO annoying! On Sunday there were basically two types: the ones that try to push you to speed up and those that keep slowing you down by stopping or walking right in front of you. I have encountered both types in the world of writing. There are the well-meaning friends and family members who tell you that you’re doing well but don’t seem to be getting on fast enough. “When are you going to publish?” they ask. When I’m done!! Then there are the critics who think they are qualified to give you writing advice and constantly attempt to influence your story. Don’t give in. Go at your own pace. Another annoying thing about people is that you see the ones who can go faster than you and wonder whether you should be able to keep up with them. On Sunday, I tried to pace myself according to others for a while but soon learned that it’s not sustainable. It was little more than a waste of energy.
5. You’re not going to enjoy 100% of the journey – deal with it
No matter how much you love your story – there will be parts of the writing journey that aren’t going to be fun but you will need to get through it to achieve your goal. During my Half Marathon there were plenty of inclines that made me slow and increased the amount of lactic acid in my calves – increasing the pain at the same time. Just suck it up and keep going. It’s all part of the experience. Write the bits of your novel that you are not excited about and don’t pressure yourself about going fast if you don’t feel you can. Give yourself permission to slow down if need be. The final outcome will be worth it.
Have you ever been through a harrowing challenge that could be compared to struggles that you encounter as a writer? If so, don’t forget to leave a comment below and share your experience.