I’m currently in the
process of two seemingly impossible tasks: I’m training for the New York
Marathon (which I ran some 16 years ago), and I’m writing the second
installment of my YA trilogy The Outliers
(Book One comes out next year!). I’ve got sore fingers (from typing) and
sore toes (from running) and there are times I want to throw my sneakers and
laptop out the window.
But this weekend, as
I was training, 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
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
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
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.
Today, when I sit down to continue this manuscript, I know that
the going may get tough once more. But today, I will have a secret weapon: the
knowledge that I know exactly what to do if it all starts to fall apart. Run Like Hell.