Sometimes we will ourselves to keep pushing forward, impatient to take the time to let our progress follow its own schedule. We ignore the warning signs that, at first subtly then slowly but surely, swell to a crescendo, indicating that it is time to rest before we push on.
In running, rest is crucial to progress. Training works by stressing the body but you cannot keep stressing it without giving it a chance to recover. The body needs to absorb the training before it can improve its performance. If you keep pushing relentlessly, harder and harder, your body will break down, through injury or illness, forcing you to take the break you refused to give it.
This is the case in writing too, something I am still learning. A writer cannot keep squeezing the words from her soul without rest after a major build-up and race, i.e. the drafting, revising and publishing of a book. Each one takes a mental and physical effort that strengthens the writer but only if he takes the time to absorb what he has learned through a break.
In writing a break may be physical, i.e. no writing, though I find it hard not to write at all. I prefer to write short pieces, such as for this blog. While their creation takes mental effort, it is a small and manageable one compared to the gigantic process that is involved in writing a book.
After finishing A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km earlier this year, I needed a lot of courage, read mental energy, to take on and complete the revisions for my first novel, From my Mother.
My self-imposed deadline was October, which meant finishing the revisions, proofing and entire publication process of a paperback and e-book at about the same time I was getting ready to run my second A-race of 2011, the Bellingham Bay Marathon on Sept. 25 (followed by the Victoria Marathon two weeks later, and the Whistler 50-mile Ultra last Saturday).
I was running my highest volume ever, covering up to 140 kilometres in seven days. Consistent marathon training takes up a lot of energy, not just physically but also mentally. While running inspires my writing, and I apply many lessons from my running to drive my writing, it can be a fine line.
As Tim Noakes writes in Lore of Running, "While gentle running enhances a person's productivity and creativity, too much training has the opposite effect ... Training burns up creative energy, leaving little space for other intellectual matters."
Runners, at any level, committed to pushing themselves to lift their performance need a sizeable amount of daily courage to sustain the consistency in their training. Regardless of how much you love to run, and I absolutely love running, you face an almost-daily challenge to head out the door, particularly in the final six weeks before a marathon.
Finishing and publishing my first work of fiction during that same time demanded plenty of courage too. It was a rollercoaster that sent me to peaks of confidence before roaring back down into the abyss of self-doubt on a daily basis.
Elizabeth George writes in Write Away; One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, "Committing to writing is placing yourself in a highly exposed position. Once your novel is written and published, you are at the mercy of the critics, the readers, your fellow writers, your family, your friends, and your former colleagues. It's truly a case of if-you-can't-stand-the-heat, and frequently the creation and publication of a novel become rife with stress and tension."
Just to be clear, this is not a woe-is-me post. But I believe it helps explain Days 7, 8 & 9 of National Novel Writing Month. Day 5 coincided with my 50-mile race, as mentioned in an earlier post. It was an awesome but tiring event. I began Day 6 a day behind but finished it with a total of 8,372 words by completing 1,687 that day at the Come Write-In in the Squamish Public Library.
On Day 7, I managed another 1,487 for a total of 9,859 but they didn't come easy. That number didn't change on Day 8 as I lost the plot (pun intended). Completely. Yesterday I squeezed another 543 words out in utter despair but felt physically ill by the end of the day.
During a total of 10,402 words I had allowed two characters to die from cancer, the protagonist's dad and daughter, and had her husband shoot himself in their kitchen after she told him she wanted to aim for the marathon world record in the women's 60-64 division.
Those three deaths also killed off my ability to continue on this story, so I have decided to start from scratch on Day 10 and write 50,000 words about the same topic (Sub-3 Marathon), hopefully still by the end of the month, but through a narrative that's a little closer to home. The one I had set out to do simply turned out to require more mental energy than I have right now.