Of all the metaphors authors use to describe the writing process, there’s one in particular that resonates with me in a big way: Writing is like running in a race. And I don’t mean no piddly 5k jog. I am talking marathon here! (NB: I give full license to anyone who has actually run a marathon to chime in!). So just a quick caveat at this stage: If you’re looking for a relaxing walk in the park at the end of the day, don’t sign up to write a novel! But if you’re looking to go the distance, to stretch the limits of your imagination and pump up those creative muscles, READ ON!
Previously we said the hardest part of writing was the Start. And that’s true! Same goes for running. Most people you know will never run a marathon because they’ll never sign up to one. You’ve got to tie on those running shoes and step up to the start line before you can even breach the task of running the race. And let’s face it, that’s where most people fail at the writing business as well. Fear of failure keeps writing that novel in the realm of “Someday”, and the Horrible Whatiffer lives to die another day. (see previous blog post on starting if you haven’t got a clue what I’m on about!)
But let’s hope you’re one of the few and far between who have crossed that barrier. And if you are, congratulations! The sheer fact that you’re writing means you’re a writer! That’s more than the majority of wanna-bes-but-never-wills out there can say. But now there’s a new challenge: Sticking it out to the finish line.
At first, you and your novel may have enjoyed a ‘honeymoon’ phase. Ideas flowed like milk and honey, your imaginative mind was fueled up and on fire, and inspiration just seemed to step out and introduce itself at every turn. But now a little time has passed, and the word count is getting smaller as your stamina wanes. You fret about sitting down to that sticky scene that seems to go nowhere. You tell yourself through gritted teeth “I just want to be done with this blasted (or insert your choice word) thing!”
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Every successful writer out there has walked through the valleys before reaching their peaks. Don’t believe me? Just pick up a copy of Writers & Artists Handbook and read through some of the author bios. Successful authors are marathon runners. They are people who understand that writing requires pacing yourself. Sometimes it’s easy sailing, sure. But other times, every foot forward costs everything you’ve got. It’s not always graceful, not always pretty. You may find yourself utterly stuck in the mud! But pushing through it all, getting to the end no matter the setbacks, that’s what counts.
So here are a handful of practical tips to keep you steady and on track, or get you out of that mud puddle if you’re stuck:
- Keep Moving, even if you don’t like what you’re writing. As author Jodi Picoult puts it, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” (Writers & Artists Yearbook 2016)
- Write a 1-liner pitch for your book (the bare essence of what it’s about). Every time you get stuck, return to that line. This is your finish line. Are you moving towards it? If not, where did you get off track?
- Return to your first love. If you’re seriously stuck, lay on your back, close your eyes, put on a piece of music that expresses the feel of your story, and try to remember your excitement in those early days. Playlists are great for running, but they work wonders for writing marathons too!
- Use the Buddy System! Get a friend to keep you accountable on deadlines & word counts. Or just to listen as you work through your story’s kinks out loud! *another little bonus tip here: keep your deadlines realistic. No need to rush it! Remember, pace yourself.
- BE OPTIMISTIC! Easier said than done, I hear you say. And don’t I know it! But 90% of a finishing marathon happens in your head. It might just be 99.9% of writing a novel. Take those negative “I’m never gonna…” thoughts captive and choose to think positively.
Remember, writers are not a higher race of beings who produce audience-worthy material each time they set pen to paper. Writers are simply people who write, no matter the discouragements or the setbacks. So keep your eye on the prize and stride (or crawl) onward with pride. You are on your way to crossing that finish line and joining the ranks of writers on the other side!
All ye fellow writers out there! Got an inspiring story or a favourite tip to add? Share the wealth & leave it in a comment below.