On Endurance and Writing

I hate running. I also hate jogging. I only barely tolerate walking when it’s needed to get me from point A to point B. As a general rule, I avoid activities that require physical exertion.

There’s a reason for this.

In junior high and high school, Physical Education was by far my most dreaded subject. Five days a week, for fifty minutes of torture, I fumbled around behind my classmates in whatever sport was scheduled for the day. It didn’t matter what we were doing, I was bound to suck at it. The most awful P.E. activities, though, were the mile runs. We did them once per week, on Wednesdays.

Wednesdays were the worst.

I tried my hardest. I really did. I ran my little heart out every Wednesday morning in P.E. class. I pushed myself to keep going even when my legs screamed for me to stop. Inevitably, though, I’d arrive at the end of the run, check my time, and find that I had made very little progress, if any, from my previous mediocre run times. No improvement week after week after week.

For a perfectionist like me who excelled in every other class, this was incredibly frustrating. It seemed like a complete waste of my time. Nevermind about the health benefits of running once per week–I wanted it to be something I was good at. Something I could win at. Or at least something that I got better at over time.

One thing I’m learning about myself is that I don’t like to spend time doing something I don’t expect to be good at. I’d rather just throw my energy into the things I know I can easily achieve. And making good time on a mile run is most definitely not on that list.

I’m beginning to realize though that this tendency to only invest in things I’m good at has a lot of downsides. For one, it’s made me terrified of failure. It’s made me afraid to try things that I don’t have much knowledge about or experience with. And it’s made me realize that I lack a very important skill in reaching my long-term goals: stamina.

Lately, this has become painfully obvious in my writing. When I wrote my first novel almost three years ago, it felt like I was sprinting. I experienced the chemical rush of endorphins as I breezed through one plot point to another, somewhat giddy by the time I arrived at the finish line. And then I threw up my hands in victory, donned my little writing medal, and went on to win the writing Olympics.

Except…not.

Okay, okay…I did throw up my hands in victory and did a little dance when I finished the story. But then I started editing it. I started doing a little more research into the publishing industry and realizing what it would take to actually land a contract. I learned that my chances of succeeding–really succeeding–were abysmally low. And that sucked all the life out of the celebration.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that writing a novel isn’t a sprint. It’s a whole heckuva lot more than reaching a word count goal or finishing a certain number of chapters. It requires excruciatingly time-intensive revising, rewriting, and revising again. It involves feedback–painful at times–from outside readers. It takes more energy and creativity than you ever thought possible to take a first draft and turn it into something…well, good.

Now, almost three years after I started writing the damn thing, I’m finally (finally!) beginning to see it take shape. It almost feels ready to be shared with the outside world. But I can’t even count the number of times I thought for sure I was going to give up on it. I’d look at the task ahead, at the mountain of edits that needed to be made, and I’d think there was just no way I could ever get it done.

Ultimately, I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s been a tiresome, messy process, but I’m proud of my little story. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned throughout this process is the importance of having endurance in writing.

I wanted writing to be a 500 meter dash, but it turned out to be a marathon. I wanted it to be quick, simple, and flawless, but it ended up being a whole lot more sweaty and clumsy than I ever would have anticipated. Yet unlike those high school mile runs, it hasn’t been an exercise in futility. It’s been difficult and unpleasant, to be sure…but beautiful as well.

I’m still waiting to find out if I’m in the running for the writing Olympics. I’ll keep you posted.

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