December 22, 2011

Letting go on the run

When I left at midday for my 16km run, it was a beautiful sunny day with the temperature at zero degrees. Frost was still covering many roofs and the sides of the road. A stunning late December day for a nice easy session.

My mind, however, was not as sunny. I was feeling a little disheartened about my writing. It's been a good year in many respects, during which I completed two books, both of which I began in 2010, including my first novel, From my Mother (October 2011).

I also edited and published two books: Tim's Sub Nine: History's Fastest Ironwomen and Teresa Rider's Reconnect With Food: Eat Your Way to Triathlon Success. All great stuff.

It's normal to take a little time to get started on the next book again. After all, there is the small yet crucial matter of telling the world about the book you've just finished. This is where it gets tricky; unless people know about your book, they don't buy it. If no one buys it, everyone else will think it isn't worth buying.

Yet marketing a book takes time, effort and dedication, just as much as writing the thing. And this is where I tend to favour writing, as I always believe my next book will be even better than the previous one. It's very much like with the marathon; I'm thrilled with a 3:06 but I know I can go faster, and can't wait to get started working on it.

As an author, just like a runner, you need to have faith. Confidence in your ability to do well and to do better. But the big difference is that the finish line for an author is not as clear cut as it is for the runner. Sure, there's the New York Times bestseller list, the Pulitzer and Giller prizes, big sales etc. But that's kinda like winning the Boston Marathon.

It's OK if my books so far wouldn't translate into a big name marathon victory. That time will come, if I keep the faith and practice my writing daily, as I do. But I also need to stay confident that the quality of my work compares to where I am at in my running; the 3:06:06 PR I ran in October translates to an age-graded 2:55:35 and a score of 77.12 percent (80% is national level, 70% is regional level), according to Runner's World's age-graded calculator.

Confidence builds confidence. The reverse is true too, especially for me; doubt breeds more doubt.

Before I went for a run today, I came across the following post, which struck a chord with me.

Jody Hedlund wrote about the ‘crises’ that authors can experience, triggered by "a bad review, a low royalty check (or NO royalty check), an unexpected or difficult rewrite, low sales figures, not getting reader emails, dismal Amazon rankings, long dry spells without hearing from your agent or editor, bewildering advice, etc., etc., etc.

"The trigger unleashes a gush of emotions and questions. We start asking ourselves things like: Why do I strive so hard? Why am I  putting in two hundred percent when there’s often so little to show for it? Is it really worth the pain, the sweat, the tears, and the uncertainty?"

Woe is me? I know. But that’s the mood I was in. I turned up my iPod a little louder so I didn't have to listen to the droning doubts in my head. My legs, and heart, were heavy.

On some days I lose faith in the struggle to become successful as an author. By 6km my iPod died. So I was alone with my thoughts, without music to distract me, though I have to admit that Linkin Park isn't - sometimes - the most uplifting band to listen to.

The motion of running, as always, calmed me. There's purpose in putting one foot in front of the other, and a sense of purpose gives a sense of productivity and forward progress. Those bring hope.

That's when running reminds me always that when things seem, or are, hard, you just have to keep going.

I felt much better by the time I got home, 16.8km later. Today's run brought the total for the past four days to about 52km, and I am planning on a 10km recovery run tomorrow, before a 24km session on Christmas day.

Christmas, or not, Sunday is long run day :-).

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