The writing marathon

When you tell people that you just ran a marathon, they don’t ask whether you won. So why is it when you tell people you’ve written a book, they ask – where is it published?

The excitement of National Novel Writing Month inspired this post – as well as a trip to Dublin last month which saw me caught up in the crowd of the Dublin Marathon.

On your marks…

Every year, millions of people undertake the challenge to write a book in 30 days. They’re charged up with ideas, advice, pep talks and caffeine, knowing that what’s ahead of them is a big undertaking, with no ‘reward’ other than the satisfaction of having done it. And they’re geared up to help each other along the way.

The Dublin Marathon is the same. I saw people fly over the finish line, like they’d just finished a 5k race. Others hobbled or limped, but got there with smiles. Some gave up.

One of the most amazing things I saw was a pair of runners nearing the finish line who backtracked to support a man – I assume it was a running buddy – who was too exhausted to run any more. They literally carried him over the finish line.

There was also a vibrant crowd cheering the runners on, competitors turning back after finishing to lend extra support, jubilant pace keepers and roadside drummers providing a bit of inspiration. Like Nano, it was an almost tribal atmosphere.

I’ve not yet run a marathon (watch this space) but I first tried NanoWrimo several years ago and succeeded. Since then I’ve taken that model and use it to write every first draft, though not necessarily during the month of November. (Note: I’m being kind to myself there…the result is more like a draft zero, a below-par initial draft, but I find it easier to work with a lump of words.) And that’s how my novels happen.

But even though the Nano model is my standard approach, there’s no denying it’s a challenge.

Like the Dublin Marathon runners, many NanoWrimo entrants succeed, but just as many, if not more, give up. Life gets in the way or lack of motivation interferes. Sometimes the uphill struggle to stay inspired gets too much. Fair play for trying, everyone but…

What’s the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t?

As far as I can tell, it’s pure determination. We keep going when the odds seem against us. We rely on sheer will power at times. We take the knocks and merely stumble, not fall. And we do it together because that tribal atmosphere – whatever your goals – really counts.

Let’s also consider the idea of measuring success. If you’ve run a marathon, it doesn’t mean you would expect to enter the Olympics – and no one else would expect it either. Likewise, just because you’ve written a book, you can’t expect it to get published right away. Writing a draft of a book is just the first step. In fact, writing several drafts of a book is still ‘early stages’ in any writing career. There’s a lot more practice, training and improvement to get through. And if this is the first book you’ve written, it probably won’t be good enough to secure you that elusive book deal.

So enjoy the process for what it is; an achievement in itself. You got there. You wrote 50,000 words in a month. You learned something. Even if you couldn’t complete the NanoWrimo challenge this time around, if you’re serious about writing, the experience will inform your writing in the future in some way.

But most importantly, once the challenge is over, try to keep in mind that sense of togetherness.

When another person asks you about your book or congratulates you on something you’ve written, when you run an extra half mile or finally get up that steep hill, when you get shortlisted or accepted for publication, or when you shave a few seconds off your running time – doesn’t it feel better when you have someone to share it with?

Next time you’re listening to someone talk about their goals – whatever they may be – take interest, ask a question. If you’re amazed or impressed, show it! This could be all that person needs to keep going and not give up.

How will you get a step closer to your goals today? And how will you help someone get closer to theirs?

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