I like to run almost as much as I like to write. I run six days a week, anywhere from six to nine miles a day, and log at least forty miles a week. Running is my quiet time, my peaceful time, my thinking time. I don’t listen to music, and I prefer to go early, before sunrise, so I’m alone on the trail and free to let my mind wander. When I’m running, I muse on whatever I happen to be plotting/writing/revising. I’ve worked out dozens of story issues and have had countless breakthroughs while pounding the pavement. In fact, my morning runs are what got me through my latest revision with my sanity (barely) in tact. (Anecdote: Recently I emailed Agent Vickie to tell her about an ah ha! moment I had while running. She responded with Imagine what you’d accomplish if you ran a marathon! Right?!)
(Oh, look… My legs. Because these days I’m terrified to use anyone’s images but my own.)
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the psychological stages of running parallel the psychological stages of revising. Anyone who’s ever taken a jog knows that there are peaks and valleys that come with the workout, and for me, revisions are the same. I took some time to jot down a few notes about the ups and downs I endure while running, and I was excited about how perfectly they align with the mental ups and downs I experience while revising…
Initial Dread – Running: When my alarm blares at 5:00 a.m. Revising: When CP/agent notes arrive in my inbox. Emotions Experienced: Fear, trepidation, curiosity. Duration: Until the running/revising actually begins.
False High – Running: The first mile or so (my first mile is downhill, so I’m usually feeling extra good). Revising: The beginnings of brainstorming–oh, this is so doable! Emotions Experienced: Bogus confidence, excitement, naivety. Duration: Until the first challenge (uphill climb, plot hole) surfaces.
Slogging (A Technical Term) – Running: Mile two, when my feet are dragging and my breath is stilted. Revising: Picking through my manuscript, muddling through the easy stuff, avoiding the big (read: HARD) changes because my objectives still aren’t quite solidified. Emotions Experienced: Uncertainty, avoidance, inability to focus. Duration: Varies, but hopefully not too long. Can often be cured by chocolate/coffee/and, um… running.
Setting A Pace – Running: Miles three and four, when I stop thinking about how hard running is and start thinking about how lucky I am to be able to do it. Revising: When the changes start to make sense and a picture of what the manuscript could be begins to take shape. Emotions Experienced: Belief that maybe it can be done, renewed motivation. Duration: Until that BIG hurdle arises–you know the one. The hurdle that seems impossible to clear and makes you want to collapse on the sidewalk (running), or throw your computer through a window (revising).
I’ll-Never-Finish Rut – Running: Mile five, when my knees start to hurt and the sun starts to rise and I’m hot and sweaty and feeling sorry for myself. Revising: When my manuscript is so torn up it’s unrecognizable. It seems impossible to piece into something even loosely resembling a story. (This, too, is usually the point at which one of my friends gets an agent or a book deal or an amazing review and, while I’m thrilled for them, I’m also indulging in a secret pity party.) Emotions Experienced: Terror, misgiving, mild insanity. Duration: Capable of breaking off the weak, but ushing through is imperative, otherwise I might never…
Find My Stride – Running: Miles six and seven, when I fall into the workout. This, for me, is the best part–when I feel like a real runner. Revising: When I find my groove and get into my zone, this is when I’m at my happiest and most productive. I somehow find a way to make my manuscript and my characters fit back together and it’s magical–I feel like a real writer! Emotions Experienced: Acceptance, contentment, gratification. Duration: Until the final push.
Home Stretch – Running: My home stretch is a long series of stairs that lead up to my neighborhood, so yeah… It’s tough. But the end is in sight, so I always know I’ll make it. Revising: Plugging those final holes, checking for continuity, reassessing character arcs and word choices and sentence structure. Tedious, but totally doable. Emotions Experienced: Exhilaration, anticipation… There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! Duration: Right through to the end.
Victory! – Running: The cool down, the cold glass of water, the hot shower. Revising: The final read-through, and that spine-tingling excitement that comes with emailing a finished draft to CPs/betas/my agent. Emotions Experienced: Pride, delight, and nerves at getting to do it all over again sometime down the road. Duration: Until that next run, or that next revision.
Tell me: Do you experience similar highs and lows when revising? How do you deal?