The Writer’s Marathon & The Curse of Heartbreak Hill
It’s Cait Reynolds blog time, which, as you know, is probably both a blessing and a curse. Haven’t blogged for a while but, it’s like the old Country & Western song: How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away? But yes, I’m back which might be a blessing or a curse.
Speaking of curses, that’s what I’m here to talk about today.
Writers tend to be a superstitious bunch, much like runners. Even the most skeptical among us can tell when the stars are not aligned on a writing day. Runners can feel when their bodies just aren’t hitting on all cylinders.
From drinking the same tea while writing to wearing lucky socks for race day, many of us can’t help but look for and cling to signs/omens/Tarot readings for encouragement.
Because we ALL need encouragement.
But, sometimes, there comes a moment when it feels like all the forces of nature are against us. No amount of stretching our prose or IT bands seems to make any difference. It’s positively spooky how blocked we get.
Now, living in Boston and being both a runner and a Red Sox fan, I consider myself something of an expert in curses. I mean, it took Bruce Springsteen’s rock n’ roll exorcism during his concert at Fenway Park to lift the curse of the Bambino…and that year, we finally won the World Series.
You can’t tell me that ish doesn’t work.
I also happen to be descended from a long line of eerily prescient/omniscient/ohnoshedidn’t Slavic women who can look right into your soul and see you didn’t wash your hands after using the public restroom.
Yeah. I know my curses.
Now, settle in, my loves. Ignore the goat demon in the corner. He’s harmless. Mostly. Oh, and careful with the salt circle. Summoning with a smudged salt circle can be…messy.
29 and Feeling Fine
Like all curses, the Mile 25 Curse begins with the seduction of possibility, invincibility, and a good pair of running shoes.
We get the Big Idea. Get all excited, develop characters, settings, plot, outlines. When we jump in, it’s both feet first and hit the ground running like we are our very own NaNoWriMo on meth.
The words are flowing. It’s easy. Effortless. This time…this time is gonna be different. We’re going to ride that wave of effortless all the way through to THE END. It’s just gonna flow.
It’s like that first run, when we blast our way through 1.5 miles at a blistering 14:06/mi pace. Hardcore, man.
We blow through the first 29,000-30,000 words of a full-length novel in record time. And it’s good work. Some of our best. We’re in it to win it, and this is rocking!
We’ve reached the end of Act I, and now, our characters are on their way. Only, the yellow brick road turns out to be paved with the broken backs of melting Peeps, and now, we’re running on a road that’s slow, sticky, and somewhat distressing.
Welcome to HELL…or Act II. Too many writers mistakenly believe writing a novel is a sprint or a fun run. No, it’s a marathon that requires training, preparations, patience and a very high pain tolerance.
Because all novelists will eventually hit…
The Heartbreak Hill of the WIP
But hey, we’ve got a plan. We’ve got an outline. The fresh idealism of the first 30,000 words has worn off, but we kinda knew this was going to happen. We had hoped it wouldn’t. But, it did. Just like we wish training for a 10k simply felt like training for two 5ks…but it’s sooo not.
So, it’s not totally shocking, and while it may take a few days to resign ourselves to the fact Act II will always be a slower, harder slog, we’re ready to soldier on.
The first stirrings of real unease might pop up around 40,000-45,000 words. We feel a little proud we’ve gotten this far. That’s a lot of words, probably around a halfway point for the whole book.
It’s also the Heartbreak Hill of our story.
Heartbreak Hill is the cruelest mile of the Boston Marathon. It’s a steady 3.3% incline for more than 2 km. Now, that may not seem like much, but remember, runners have already done 20.6 miles. There have been shorter, steeper climbs and longer, quad-punishing downhills.
Runners are caked in salt, blood, and sticky dried Gatorade. It could be beating down icy rain or unseasonably hot. Healed injuries are tweaking, threatening to unravel. The playlist is failing to inspire. Even the kisses and oranges from the Wellesley College girls (both offered freely to all) can’t quite distract from the pain.
All the cowbell in the world can’t help you now.
Writers and runners slow and walk a few steps, cry a little, then grit their teeth and get back in the game. Because it’s only 5.6 miles or 45,000 words to the finish line. This is the hardest test of what we are made of. Can we ENDURE?
We got this….*weeps*
The Mile 25 Curse
I used to live right at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon, which is just before Kenmore Square (mile 25.2), where the crowds really start going wild. From Kenmore, it’s just one more mile to the finish line.
But there’s one last nasty surprise for runners. To get to Kenmore Square, they have to run over the I-90 overpass, a mini-Heartbreak Hill. It’s the psych-out sucker punch. CURSE it ALL!
For writers, that moment of despair generally comes at the end of Act II, or about 60,000 words-ish. It’s a sudden existential inadequacy and dread:
You know…something like that.
Every writer faces a Mile 25 Curse moment. There are no talismans to protect us against it, no surefire cures. We are alone and unprepared to face our demons. Every. Single. Time.
The Mile 25 Curse can make us abandon our WIP to chase fluffy plot bunnies that PROMISE to be easier to write and give us instant fame, fortune, and a lifetime supply of Diet Coke.
The curse doesn’t care if our WIP is any good. It doesn’t care about our dreams. It has one goal: to trip us up before the finish line.
There are runners who collapse at mile 25 in the Boston Marathon, physically and mentally pushed beyond their limit. There are also the runners who slow to a walk as they digest the grim reality of one last hill. You can see them weighing the options in their heads. Should I just give up and walk the rest of the way? Do I have it in me?
How badly do I want this?
They take a deep breath…and resume running, even if it’s merely a limping jog. No way they’ve come this far to just give up.
So, they just keep running.
The Finish Line
And, really, that’s what I’m trying to tell you today. Keep pressing. Mile 25 is a finite thing. It is one mile…or 5,280 ft….or 1,500 steps, and each step brings you that much closer to the finish line.
When we are at the end of Act II, there isn’t that much further to go. It’s another 15,000-20,000 words at most for Act III. We know how the story is going to end (or should) and what needs to happen. There’s no more slogging through the confusing, mushy bits we’re not sure of in Act II.
This is a final sprint for the FINISH!
A marathon is about crossing the finish line. It isn’t about sashaying, moon-walking, or pronking across it. How we cross doesn’t matter. We simply have to cross it, limping, bloody, and shaking from way too much caffeine after writing the worst 12,000 words of our lives.
Nobody looks good crossing the finish line of a race. Even the 100-meter dash–sure, it’s not far enough that hair and makeup get mussed, but there’s the awkward ‘runner face’ everyone makes, which is halfway between the putting-on-mascara face and the O-face.
Not even Kenyans look their best at a finish line.
I have yet to finish a book and wake up the next morning looking like a million dollars. It’s more that I look like a reject extra for The Walking Dead. I probably smell like a reject extra from The Walking Dead, too, because who has time to shower when we’re 4,000 from the finish line?
The point is, it doesn’t matter if you are sweaty, blotchy, puffy, a drippy mess from allergies, or prone to random hysterical laughter by the time you finish your book. YOU FINISHED.
And as a fellow writer and perhaps a fellow runner…I’ll be there to cheer you on!
Thank You CAIT!
Kristen here. If anyone ever sees me running? RUN FOR YOUR $%#@#$% LIFE! Because there is something with teeth or a chainsaw behind me.
But, whether we are runners or not, writing is an endurance sport. I choose motherhood, grappling in Jiu Jitsu, and time with my mother to train my endurance. It helps 🙂 .
***Scroll down for new classes from Cait and for On Demand classes for hardcore storytelling training from MOI!
What Are Your Thoughts?
I love hearing from you!
Do you find yourself starting and never finishing? Is this from lack of planning? Failing to fully prepare? Not enough training? Maybe underestimating HOW FREAKING HARD writing a novel ACTUALLY is?
Are you being too hard on yourself? A commenter last time was really down she couldn’t finish her FIRST ‘novel.’ Hell, it took me no less than FIFTEEN ‘novels’ before I finished. That whole ‘endurance training thing’ 😉 .
What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Also NOW OFFERING MORE CLASSES PLUS ON DEMAND…
Retelling Myths & Fairytales
Instructor: USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard (Cool Upgrades Available)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY May 25th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST
Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.
One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings.
Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible. Get your spot today! HERE.
The Yarn Behind the Book: Backstory
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, June 1, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Behind every good book is an entire story that happens before the reader ever opens to page one. This is the backstory, and done right, it is what sets the stage, provides clues and cues, and rescues you from writer’s block.
A good backstory will help with logic and consistency in the plot, developing complex motivations for characters, and sorting out exactly what needs to happen going forward as you either plot or pants your way to the end.
This class will cover the following topics – and much more:
- The elements of a backstory;
- How to take your current plot idea and work backwards into a backstory;
- Integrating character profiles and the backstory;
- How the backstory relates to the logline and synopsis;
- Using the backstory to dig yourself out of corners and shake off writer’s block;
- Why a backstory is crucial to writing a series.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
About the Instructor:
Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.
On Demand Training!
Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!
For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:
Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .
The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.
And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…
Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN!
I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.