Today’s subject is a mysterious source of power called RFP.
But before we get to that, an announcement:
The Return Man is finished!
Two weeks ago I submitted the complete manuscript to its excellent publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, capping off an intense 6 months of writing and revision. And so here I am again, catching my breath in the land of the living (and this woefully neglected blog).
Now back to RFP…
Aside from writing, one of my passions in life is long-distance trail running. I’ve run 3 road marathons and long trail races, too, and in the next year or two I’m hoping to run my first 50-mile ultramarathon. I love not just the physical challenge, but the mental requirements of running for hours on end. The truth is, you have to train your brain as much as your body to run 50 miles. I’m far from an elite runner, but I have learned a lesson or two from years of pushing myself to go faster, farther, up mountains and across miles. Lessons every runner needs to know.
And, as it turns out, every novelist.
Writing your novel is hard. It takes a long, long time. It demands discipline, and the will to finish, and the ability to ignore the naysayer voice in your head that will sometimes be whispering — and oftentimes shouting — “You can’t do this. Give up.”
So to anyone thinking about writing their first book (or anyone lingering at the trailhead of some daunting yet wonderful dream-path), here’s what I can tell you — the secret to finishing. It’s the same “pep talk” I give myself while running a marathon, and the same advice I gave to myself night after night while writing The Return Man, through last fall and winter and now into spring.
First, let’s start with the old cliche, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” It’s true. Just stick your foot out, and you’re going. The first mile will seem easy — deceptively easy — but that’s good. Enjoy it, and go as far as you can before reality sets in. Don’t be afraid to say “Screw reality” in the beginning. You’ll deal with hard facts later, so just relax now and relish the zip in your legs.
Soon enough you’ll settle to your race pace. The first 50 pages of your book are like the first 4 miles of a 26.2 mile marathon. Now you’ve gone just far enough so that your heartbeat is fast and your breath is quick and your legs would maybe like to sit down — but OH GOD YOU STILL HAVE SO FAR TO GO!!! I always coach myself that these are the hardest miles of the race. You’re afraid of what lies ahead, but remember, the obstacles right now are in your head. Don’t let your brain deceive you. Your legs are strong. You can go much, much farther. You can. Trust me.
The last 100 pages of your book are like the last 5 miles of the marathon. Psychologically, you’re in a better place, because you’ve already come so far, and now you can sense the finish line — but HOLY CRAP YOU ARE PHYSICALLY EXHAUSTED AND THE PAIN IS AWFUL AND YOU’RE ABOUT TO DROP!!! Repeat to yourself that you are near the end. Remind your brain that you run 5 miles all the time. 5 miles is easy. Forget that you just ran 21 miles. Focus on the 5. You can do it.
And what about those middle 100 pages? Talk to anybody who’s run a 100-mile ultramarathon and they’ll tell you this: somewhere in the middle, you are going to feel utterly hopeless. Defeated. Beaten by the task. In total shutdown, body and spirit, ready to quit.
That’s when you have to grab hold of yourself and remember three simple letters.
Relentless Forward Progress.
Relentless. Don’t stop, no matter what, no matter how negative you feel.
Forward. Keep on going, one foot in front of the other. Speed doesn’t matter. Take tiny steps if you need them. Crawling is fine, too. A page per night, a paragraph per night, doesn’t matter. Don’t judge the amount. Give yourself permission to move inches at a time, as long as you’re moving ahead.
Progress. With even the slightest nudge forward, you are in the process of arriving at your goal. It’s inevitable. Gradually, the bleak middle miles stack up behind you, and the mental pendulum swings back in your favor. You begin to visualize your success. You begin to believe.
So there you have it. RFP. That’s the secret. Nothing too fancy — but honestly, I repeat it to myself all the time when I’m struggling, and it bolsters me. Try it out, see how it works for you. Say it to yourself the next time you’re feeling stuck:
Who’d like to join me for a run?