A Writer's Life

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in training

It’s marathon Sunday in Chicago. My sister, Diana, ran the race this morning, and yesterday, I ran the Chicago International 5K—my first race in 18 months. Humbling. And before you ask: no, I have no plans to run a marathon anytime soon. I write novels, and that’s basically the same thing as running a marathon, except I get to drink coffee while I do it.

They’re both endurance sports that require dedication, years of practice and a touch of insanity.

There’s one huge difference between them though, and that’s the way novices approach them. Very few couch potatoes will decide on Saturday to run a marathon on Sunday. There are a couple, but they either drop out by mile 3 or get injured.

About five hours after Diana completed her run, we bumped into another finisher in the elevator of our hotel. For 21 floors we listened to her moan. Honestly, I thought she was going to collapse, or vomit.

This woman was not an experienced runner, nor was she fit, but for some reason she decided it was wise to run 26.2 miles (42.2 km).

Marathoners train for years. They run long distances, cross train and strength train. They have regular massages and go to physiotherapy when needed. They monitor their diets, hydration and sleep levels carefully. They have coaches and develop a community of runners around them. They educate themselves.

Funny thing is, novice writers are like the woman in the elevator. They don’t invest the time, or the money, to learn how to write a novel. Nor does it occur to them that they should.

Like marathoners, professional writers train for years. We have an apprenticeship where we study with editors who know what they’re doing. We develop a consistent writing practice. We read and analyze novels and stories to see how others do it. We create a community of like-minded writers around us and we constantly push ourselves to level up.

I was just talking to a man who argued with me that studying the craft of writing wasn’t necessary. For him, being literate was all that was required to create a bestselling novel. I thought about the woman in the elevator and wondered whether she’d believed her ability to walk was all that was required to complete a marathon.

There’s no room in a writer’s life for short cuts.

So, like my sister, I’ll keep training. Diana has more marathons to run and I’ve got more books to write.

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