Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Marathons, Going The Distance, And A Confused Duck



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.

Writing isn't just the finish line. It's the journey there.

That, and wondering why that duck is staring at you from outside Flight 41 at thirty thousand feet....

19 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! Staying focused on the goal without obsessing over the finish can be quite a challenge. But you can't launch a book with out one written. And as you say it is a marathon, worth every moment.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love that last duck pic!

    You're so right about writing being like a marathon rather than a sprint. The writer you mentioned would have done well to hone her craft and put out the best novel she could, then work at building a support network--and ultimately, a fan base--rather than have unrealistic expectations about immediate success.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Especially with self-publishing on the rise, way too many writers are in a hurry to get their work out there. It's so important to take your time...then to take even more time editing over and over and over! Not to mention slowly building a network and following.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sometimes it hard to remember to enjoy the journey. I love the analogy. I'm a runner, so it really hits home. And that duck in the plane window is priceless!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I remember when I finished my first novel and the feeling of accomplishment...and then...the hard part...editing it until it was the best that it could be. I remember thinking that when I first finished it that it was "done"...how wrong I was...especially when I totally changed it...
    Seeing the end in sight is a good thing, but unless your name is Amanda Hocking, success and building a network are things that take time...

    Great blog, William!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. It didn't happen for Amanda overnight, either, Beth. She said herself that finding the right formula for her was trial and error. But she was realistic in her expectations.

    That's the only way to survive in this nutty business.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love that sentence about writing...
    "Writing isn't just the finished line. It's the journey there"....
    Every line is a journey and I sure hope I make it someday. I'd love to share a shelf with all of you at the local library.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It would be fun if we could all do a booksigning together. I once participated in a 21-author signing in a mall, and we had a ball!

    ReplyDelete
  9. This was an excellent post. The analogy is so fitting and your 'duck' illustration fits to a tee. perhaps you should do more posts on this topic. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love your duck story and I can believe that is exactly what she was thinking.

    cheers, parsnip

    ReplyDelete
  11. You quack us up.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yup. Even after you written the whole thing after the tenth time, it still isn't done. The polishing and the buffing come next. OMG.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yes, writing a novel is like running a marathon. You do a lot of work before the flashy finish line moment. Great post, William.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yes, writing a book is a great and wonderful journey but you must enjoy the path getting there or you might not make it...... I'm still running..........

    PS - Loved the duck!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I love the pics, they always make me laugh till I snort and the concept of a writing a book is a marathon is inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  16. William, of all your posts, this one is the best. I absolutely loved it. I loved reading the entire article, from the duck looking at you to losing your pace in writing to reach that goal. You are something! Excellence beyond excellence.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well said! This didn't make me want to duck at all.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I totally relate about not being in the jogging frame of mind. However, my hub is a triathlete. I shared with him what you wrote and he nodded and smiled - yes, it's all about the pacing. I'm going to keep your fabulous analogy in mind, William. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete

Comments and opinions always welcome. If you're a spammer, your messages aren't going to last long here, even if they do make it past the spam filters. Keep it up with the spam, and I'll send Dick Cheney after you.