Some years ago on a late May weekend, I happened to be walking near the Rideau Canal, which winds its way through the city. As I approached Colonel By Drive to cross over to the bike path along the canal, I heard a distinct drone coming my way, not unlike the buzz of a nest of angry bees. As it turned out, it was the sound generated by dozens of rollerbladers, moving quickly along the pavement of the parkway, in the midst of a race. I watched them fly past, one after the other. A rollerblade's fairly quiet in and of itself, but not when they're in large groups.
I wasn't the only one watching and waiting to cross. There on the grass a short distance away, looking left and right, waiting for a chance to cross, was a duck. She watched the bladers zip past, and then looked at me. It's a rare thing to be able to read someone else's mind; even rarer when you know exactly what a completely different kind of critter is thinking. To this day, I'm certain that duck was thinking, You people are crazy.
A number of the blogs I follow feature tips and advice on writing; often a metaphor is used to bring the point across. Today that falls to me: the giving of advice on the writing process. I know, I know, scary thought, isn't it? Bear with me.
I brought up that particular story for a reason. Here in Ottawa during the summer, many charitable runs take place during the summer. There are long miles of bike paths and walking routes spread throughout the city that offer some splendid opportunities for exercise. And it's typical for one or both of the parkways that run along the canal to be closed on a Sunday morning, offering joggers, cyclists, runners, and walkers the freedom of the road. There are running clubs (you'll know them by the pack of people in spandex hut-hutting their way down the street). And the biggest weekend for it all takes place that last weekend in May, called the Ottawa Race Weekend. Forty thousand runners take part for charity and for their own personal best timed runs, with a series of races ranging from short runs all the way to the full marathon. Though it wasn't part of the races this year, those bladers were competing that particular year. Either that, or dozens of rollerbladers were on the parkway at the same time on the same weekend for an entirely different reason.
I'll say straight out that I'm not one for the jogging-running regimen. That mindset is a bit of a mystery to me. That's not to say I don't get my exercise, far from it. Walking, swimming, and rock climbing are my regimen. That said, anyone who can finish a marathon... that's an achievement. The route here in the city was laid out through some very scenic areas this year, and the final stretch ran along the Canal. I happened to see some of the runners this year as they passed by. They were in the last three or four kilometres of the run, and they were exhausted. But they were going to make it, blisters be damned. My hat's off to them.
Writing a book is a marathon. That's been something on my mind as of late, as I'm closing in on the end of the book. Like the marathon runner who trains in preparation, our research constitutes that time of preparation. Writing requires you to pace yourself, to not wear yourself out early on. Just as a marathon requires a different mindset from a sprint, a novel writing process is much different from a poem or short story.
As writers, we need to think long term, to approach our work as a test of endurance. It's easy to get yourself so caught up in the finishing line that you're forgetting about what's right in front of you. You stumble over an unseen obstacle, and disaster unfolds. I've seen it recently in a writer who was so obsessed with the end product, book launches, getting the book out there, that she lost sight of the here and now, and she stumbled. Stumbled is an understatement. Disaster is more like it.