Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Mid-Life Crisis

My view of the starting line
This past Sunday I ran my first race, a 5K as part of the Duke City Marathon. When I played sports in high school, I never enjoyed running. I tried it a couple of times as an adult and hated it both times. So what changed? Why take it up now?

I keep joking that I took up running as part of a mid-life crisis. I turn 40 next month, and that's the sort of landmark age that gets you thinking. What do I want out of the next ten years, twenty, forty? How do I want to feel during those years? As a physical therapist, I work with 80 year old patients who could run laps around me, and I also work with people my age who are a complete wreck. Those in the former group tend to have one thing in common: they take really good care of themselves.

Before June, I wasn't doing much in the way of exercising except to walk a couple of times around the block, once or twice a week. I wanted to do more. I wanted to feel good about my health by the time my fortieth birthday came around. I wanted to enjoy playing with my son, running after him and playing games without getting tired. So on the first of June, I joined a gym and started working out. After a couple of weeks, I wanted to really challenge my cardiovascular system, so I started running. Then I figured I needed a more structured plan than, "Well, I guess I'll run a minute, then walk a couple, then run if I feel like it, then walk some more." So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app because people had talked about it on a writing forum I belong to. Then I figured I should have a race goal to work toward, because what's the point of using this app and then letting all of that hard work fizzle away? So I signed up for the 5K.

The morning of the race was a little surreal. I've volunteered at races before, but I've never run one. I've never run as far as I did that day. All together, my running app showed that I ran 3 and a quarter miles. And I ran all of that, with the exception of walking at the water table. I could barely run a minute at a time when I started training, but when I finished this race, I had run for 41 minutes and some change. I could hardly believe it. I had worked hard for three months, and then it all paid off on Sunday morning.

Ready to run
I don't think this is a mid-life crisis so much as I didn't have the necessary patience before now. So yeah, age has something to do with it insofar as I now realize that a lot of time, practice, and energy goes into building up to the final product, whether it's running a race, writing a book, or getting a degree. A dear friend of mine told me about Road ID, which is a way of wearing your pertinent contact and medical information in case you're out running or biking and have an accident or a medical emergency and can't communicate. I got a little pouch that goes onto my running shoes, and I added a saying: Slow And Steady Wins. It's a reminder because I often have a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning of an endeavor, but I sometimes lose steam along the way. It's a reminder that I need to look at the big picture and my goals and take my training one day at a time. It's a reminder that setting a goal, working toward it, and achieving it is winning, no matter where I am in the pack. So this past Sunday, I'm happy to say, I was a winner.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hold on Loosely

I've been working on the third book in The Necromancer's Inheritance trilogy. And working on it. And working on it. This book has been a bear. And not just any bear. It's a hungry bear woken early from hibernation. It's been the hardest to wrangle out of any other book I've written. The bad news is, I'm far from done. The good news is, I think I realized what's gone wrong and what I need to do to fix it.

Before I started writing this book, I had a couple of great scenes in my head. I was excited when I finally got to write them. But what I figured out shortly afterwards was that they didn't work. Both of them took my story in the wrong direction, added little to the plot, and introduced way too many characters. There was a lack of depth in my work. It's taken me a couple of months to realize this, and it's quite frustrating. I need to cut the scenes and cut several characters. I need to streamline. Trust me, when I figured this out a couple of days ago, I was ready to pull my hair out. But the most important thing to me is to make a story as good as possible before launching it into the world. So out came the scissors, and those scenes and characters are gone.

Of course, when you're up this high, don't let go of anything
This has dramatically changed the story, which has already dramatically changed since I started on it. I've had trouble finding the true beginning. I just rewrote the first scene again. I've done it I don't know how many times. But this time, it feels intimate, and I slipped right into the main character's head. I think I'm on the right track.

So the big takeaway is that it can hurt you to hold onto things too tightly when you're going into a new project. That shiny idea or scene or character you've been dying to write is probably just fine. But it might not work for the story you want to tell. I tried forcing my two scenes into the story, and it weakened the entire thing. So I pulled back, reminded myself of the three main plot lines of the story as well as the themes, outlined the first chapter yet again, and started over. Sometimes you've just got to let go.