The Writer’s Marathon & The Curse of Heartbreak Hill

Running, marathon, heartbreak hill, Boston marathon, writing, Curse

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.

Running, marathon, heartbreak hill, Boston marathon, writing, Curse

Do you know how hard it was to find funny Boston memes without the f-bomb for this post? DO YOU?!! DO YOU F*$#@*&* APPRECIATE WHAT I DO FOR YOU????!!!!

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

writing tips, how to write a novel, Boston Marathon, Boston Red Sox, writing tips, curse, Cait Reynolds, Heartbreak Hill, writing success

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.

Boston Marathon sign at Heartbreak Hill

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.

2014 Boston Marathon: the famous Wellesley kissing line.

Wellesley College student Lauren Dow solicited and RECEIVED kisses from the passing runners. Section: Sports, Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

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!

Boston Marathon sign

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.

Spencer the Boston Marathon dog will cheer you on!

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!

Coach Cait is ready! (Post-run on a GOOD day)


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).


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:

ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. 

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…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

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.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan


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    • Donna Spivey on May 18, 2018 at 10:14 am
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for this today! I have been “stuck” at 38,000 words for a long time and felt like I was all alone and the worst author in the world. Just like in a marathon, this blog gave me a second breath and the “want to” to get back into my novel.

    1. You got this! Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and start again with a slow jog. Just 250 words at a time. Make sure to stretch (reaching for the wine bottle TOTALLY counts). Endurance comes from stamina, stamina comes from failure, and failure comes from never giving up. I’m with you. ALL THE WAY!

  1. I can so relate to this! I’m a writer and a runner and I know exactly what you’re talking about. Thanks for saying it so eloquently.

  2. It’s amazing how many writers are runners. There is so much to the mental discipline of running that applies to the physical discipline of butt-in-seat. Here’s to many more miles and words for is both!

  3. Cait, I used to be a runner, now I’m a fast walker! Age has a lot to do with worn out knees and back! So, I’m at Act II and feel the pain! Middles are the pits, but I’ll persist. Act III is done. So much more fun! Right on, writing is like an endurance sport! ? Christine

  4. Best part about being a writer and NOT a runner (or writing and not running, runners can be writers…) is that if we botch that last mile, we can come back later and re-do it, so we finish with heartrending glory!

  5. With my first novel, I hit 30,000 words on the severalth attempt at a first draft and promptly lost the will to live. Or rather, I lost the will for most of my characters to live. So I blotted most of them out of existence and started over. And that time I made it all the way to the finish line!
    Now I’m working on novel 2 and frankly, I don’t think I’ve experienced a time when the words just flow. It’s just an endless series of grabbing those beautiful scene-butterflies swirling round my head and pinning them to the page with word-nails.
    And with that charming, cheery thought, I shall leave you. 🙂

    • Ramshah Akbar on May 19, 2018 at 1:09 am
    • Reply

    I adore your posts Cait. Spot on!

  6. If you know what your major plot points are before you start, it’s all down hill.

    • Janice McL on May 19, 2018 at 8:43 pm
    • Reply

    OMG, I think Cait has been cruising around in my head. I’m 50,000 words in and exactly where she described. Let me tell you it does not help to know it gets even harder from here but it does help to know you’re not the first and won’t be the last.

    Afraid I can’t agree with Rachel C. I keep telling myself I must become a reformed pantser but no matter how many plot points I settle on, my stories have minds of their own.

    Love your posts Kristen. Thank you.

  7. Hey…I just wanted to say this was a good post from Cait. It seems like the flow and beat were right on. Thanks, Cait and Kristen for continuing to inspire.

    1. Were…not were!! I can spell and do grammar and such.

      1. If you don’t rat yourself out, I correct them before approving 😉 .

  8. I may not be writing a novel, but I face those same hills. My breath is coming in short bursts and I’ve a stitch in my side. I’m not sure how long I can keep going. Thanks for your encouraging article.

    • excessivelyperky on May 25, 2018 at 1:39 am
    • Reply

    Oh, I know this one! At the two-thirds mark, I generally begin to hate my characters and want them all to die in some horrid mutual disaster. But those are hard to sell. Sometimes I write that scene anyway. After that, I remember what my ending is supposed to be (sometimes I know my last line, yum!), and then I re-outline. I write everything that has to happen till the end, and then figure out in which order they need to go. At that point, I work hard on mentally ‘dreaming’ the story (doesn’t everyone have their own interior holodeck?) so it becomes so real it’s not that hard to write down what people are doing. Wish they’d clean the clam dip off the rug, though.

    • robintvale (Jessica) on April 29, 2019 at 12:21 am
    • Reply

    You get us, you really do. *sobs*

    I’ve chopped it up like a salad made by a deranged knife-wielding demon. I sit here and cry, then go back at it and do another paragraph, have a smoke, go back do another, drink more coffee and O.D. on energy drinks. Maybe bang my head on the desk for a while then do another sentence…

I LOVE hearing your thoughts!

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