Writing, Marathons, and Mountains

Tahquitz Rock, as seen from the road near the base of Mt. San Jacinto. (Photo by Susan Ruff)

November is National Novel Writing Month, a time in which many talented people produce thousands of written words in a single month. They are probably drafting the upcoming New York Times bestsellers, even as I type this blog.

Some day, perhaps, I will possess both the time and the capability to accomplish such a feat. At the moment, however, I am a walker, not a sprinter. I can go the distance, but I’m not fast.

Novel writing has always reminded me of hiking up a mountain or walking in a marathon. The thought process for each of those endeavors is similar: although the ultimate goal is to finish, that is not the carrot that keeps the participant going. Instead, as you are walking, you focus on the shorter goals within the race or the hike.

During my college years, my dad and I backpacked up several mountains, including Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and a few of Southern California’s peaks. (I got lost during two different hikes on Mt. San Jacinto, but that’s a story for another day.) My dad taught me that hiking is all about putting one foot in front of another. When you are tired and discouraged, that’s all you have to do.

These days, I usually set my hiking goals a little farther than a single step, but I still find it better to think about the next mile marker or view point on the trail, rather than concentrating on the mountaintop. When you reach each small goal, you can look back and see all the distance you’ve covered. If you concentrate instead on how far you still have to go, it’s easy to become discouraged.

I walk marathons in the same way. The goal is to complete each mile. You’ll get to 26.2 eventually, but it is better to focus on the small goals within that ultimate distance.

Novel writing, although a much longer process than either hiking or marathoning (is marathoning a word?), can be approached in a similar fashion. When I write a novel, the goal is to finish a single chapter. Once that is complete, the goal moves to the following chapter. Of course, I know where the story is ultimately headed, but that is not my daily writing focus.

Incidentally, you may be wondering how I can talk about books in plural when John and I only have one published novel (60th Hour). Believe it or not, I have actually completed five full-length novels (one before I met John and four with his help). Where are the others, you may ask? *Sigh* Wasn’t there a famous author who stated that a writer’s first million words of fiction are garbage? Apparently he had seen my early writing.

But I digress. In addition to focusing my attention on a single chapter at a time, I usually try to write at least 500 words a day. So, in that way, I guess I am still following my dad’s advice about putting one foot in front of another. Each word and paragraph is a little father along the trail.

By the end of today, I should have completed 45,000 words on Prophecy’s Malignant Son, the latest fantasy novel that John and I are writing. That is a little over the half-way mark, and we are still hoping to have it finished, edited and ready for publication by March 2021. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

-Susan 11/20/2020

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