After running what felt like a marathon, I've finished my latest rough draft. The words poured out of me for three months like sweat. And, Friday evening I brought the first novel, in a three-book series, to a satisfying close. A few days before my personal deadline, it was as if the finish line came into view and I started sprinting. My fingers felt the burn.
Taking a few deep breaths over the weekend, I rested up. I stretched my writerly-muscles and got to work on some things I'd let fall by the wayside. Within a day or two, the rush of writing over 90,000 words had worn off, and I started thinking about the next race.
Now, I'm not a runner. I enjoyed running at one time in my life, but now the idea makes my knees shudder. Because they're worn out. But, one thing I've learned about the practice is a runner is never done (unless physically taken out of the race). A runner, if not actively in a race, is still preparing for the next race.
You have a race you’re running and I have a race I’m running, and sometimes I look at your race and think I wanna run that race. We all do it. Then, we’re multitasking. Running multiple races or planning the next race before finishing the current one.
Whether it's the competition, comparisons, or conquests, we are all running. For my own sanity, I've had to hit the brakes and decide for myself if starting a new book, accepting a new job, and taking on a new hobby are good for me in the long run. I feel accomplished when I stay busy, but I’m so busy that it’s difficult to gauge my success. In our culture, the more we have to do the more accomplished we feel. It’s probably why one finish line is never enough.
I don't want to burn out, or injure myself.
During my latest self-reflection, I decided I'd rather walk on a path of my own making. I’ll intentionally focus on my goals each day, and take my time. Inevitably, when I’m faced with something that looks interesting I’ll ask myself if it will help me reach my original goals. My plan is to take in the scenery and enjoy the journey. Not only will it help me focus, but I think I'll be happier for it. I'm still a planner. I still have a daily To Do List, and I'm still passionate about my what I'm doing, but this next finish line I’m moving toward will be more satisfyingly my own.
Finding Your Finish Line
No matter what profession or hobby we exercise, I think we could all use some tips for running or walking our race. Here are three!
- Spend a morning or afternoon alone with a pen and paper. Write down what you want now and what you want most. Satisfying the now isn't worth it if you're not being led to what you want most. Make a plan to work toward the longer distance and create your own path. Here’s what it looked like for me…
- What do I spend the most time on each day? (Your answer will look like what you want most now.)
- What do I want most? (You can think within the next year or ten years, but make sure you’re specific. Don’t just say you want to finish a book. Explore the process and your ultimate goal, i.e. being published by the end of 2018 or publishing 100 posts on my blog in 2017.)
- Condition yourself daily. Every athlete has to warm up, but their exercises are determined by the sport they play. Don't expect to be ready to do your work if you're focusing on another person's practices. You don't want to condition yourself to be another them, but you want to be the best YOU!
- If you’re writing a Fantasy novel, make sure you’re spending every day in the world you’re creating. Take notes, create a Pinterest board, write for a 15 minute sprint on the days you don’t think you have time to write. The key is to stay in your lane. Don’t get distracted by a new idea or take a long break, they’ll only keep you from crossing your finish line.
- I have a few ‘writing’ blogs I like to follow for writing exercises. I limit the time I spend on social media. I allow myself to say ‘no’ and make my writing a priority. Cutting down on the number of ‘distractions’ in my day has had a significant impact on my productivity.
- Now that you know your long term goals and you're working to be better every day at your craft, seek trustworthy-outside feedback. Instead of looking at your work as a way to 'beat' someone else, try utilizing a trusted friend to help you. If we're focused on helping each other up and keeping each other accountable, we will all find ourselves all finishing our own races.
- Check for local writing groups that meet at libraries and book stores.
- Participate in Facebook groups devoted to writers and make some new friends.
- Attend a book/writing convention and meet writers who have similar goals. It’s one thing to have a cheerleader, but having someone run alongside you can push and challenge you in great ways.
I honestly think this process can be used for any profession. The hardest part of the process is being honest with ourselves.