Embracing ignorance

I entered my first marathon as a favor for a friend. He wanted to surprise his girlfriend by running one with her, but he needed a training partner.

I was fueled by ignorance.

I didn’t train enough. I wore shoes made for running 5Ks. I knew nothing of protecting myself from chaffing and other long-distance injuries. My legs were leaden pegs when I crossed the finish. My toes bled through my sneakers (I eventually lost nine toenails.). I was so sore in the days after that even driving was difficult.

Still, I finished the 26.2-mile route in less than four hours, pretty respectable for a first-timer.

I wrote my first novel the same way. I knew nothing of novel writing. I had too many primary characters in the first draft. The pace in the first half differed from the pace of the second half. I edited as I wrote, which slowed me down. It took me six years to write my first novel, and I spent another two years revising it.

Still, it was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, respectable for a first novel. It remains my favorite and it has been the favorite of two literary agents. I have shelved it for another look at a better time in my career.

I credit ignorance for my success in completing that first novel, the same kind of ignorance that carried me through my first marathon. I believed all through the writing process that novel would sell, and I became more firm in that belief when I signed with my first agent. I even told the kids we would celebrate its sale by buying a Wii.

A year later, my husband and I caved and bought them a Wii anyway.

For first-timers, the novel-writing process can seem daunting and the goal, unachievable. The greatest obstacle is self-doubt and the greatest feat is pushing through that doubt to cross the finish line. So why not allow them that ignorance? Why clue newbies in on the perceived impossibilities?

Let them write. Let them make mistakes without knowing they are mistakes. Let them cross the finish line just once with pure joy, unaware of the bleeding toes, chaffed skin and torn muscles they acquired along the way.

I had started my next novel before I knew the first one wasn’t going to sell immediately, and that was a good thing. I had learned from my mistakes and inefficiencies. The next novel took two years to finish and that is a pace I feel comfortable with at this stage in my life, with young children to raise and elderly parents who need me.

I recently signed a contract with Black Opal Books for that second novel, a thriller entitled No Stranger Here, and for the two novels I wrote next, which are part of a mystery/suspense series. I am happy with my work and thrilled by the contract, but I’m not sure I would have made it to this point without the gift of ignorance that first time around.

I ran five more marathons after the first one. I trained smarter and ran faster for the second two. For the last two, I focused only on finishing injury-free, relying on my previous experiences as a guide. I ran a few minutes slower than my first marathon, but I finished without lasting pain and was able to hit the roads and the track again two days later.

I loved it.

I stopped running marathons when I started my first novel. The two decisions were unrelated, influenced by other factors in my life, but I am not sure I would have succeeded in one without the experience of the other. Marathon training prepared me for novel writing, but it was ignorance that got me hooked on both.

 

 

 

Oops. I grew as a writer, but so did my waistline.

Four months ago, my husband bought me a Fitbit.
We live in a large house with three levels on lots of land in the country.
I was sure I’d be racking up those steps in no time.
Instead, I looked at my wrist after a long day of writing, transporting children to school and to various activities, making dinner and putting kids to bed to find I’d walked only a little more than 3,000 steps.
Experts recommend 10,000 per day.
It was quite a shock for a formerly obsessive runner with six marathons in my past, but it forced me to face reality.
I’ve completed three novels over the past five years and I’ve gained an average of ten pounds per novel. (That’s on top of the pounds I’d kept after giving birth to my twins eight years ago.)
Writing wasn’t the only distraction from my health (We moved, built a new house, and our aging parents grew more dependent on us.), but it has been a big one.
And I know I’m not alone in this.
I’ve watched several writers grow with me during this same time frame. Some of us have ramped up our writing to distract ourselves from the painfully slow submission process. Others are newly published authors under pressure to get the next novels out.
We share an insatiable passion for writing, but we have one other important thing in common.
We are all parents of school-aged children.
It makes sense. When we parent-writers look at our priorities, we often find our own health is the easiest thing to put on the back burner. Our health affects no one but ourselves in the short run and we honestly believe the priority shift is just temporary.
We’ll start eating better in a month or so.
We’ll go back to the gym after the holidays.
We’ll get more sleep once this latest project is completed.
But that time never comes.
The months pass as do the years and, as the pounds accumulate and the muscles whither, it gets harder and harder to muster the enthusiasm required to shed the weight and rebuild strength.
Writing is my passion.
It’s my past and my future.
It’s my greatest priority next to my family.
But those numbers on my wrist made me realize writing would have to share that second-place ranking from now on.
I miss running.
I miss being healthy.
I miss the way my clothes used to fit me.
I want to keep up with my kids.
So I started by focusing on my step goal.
No more nonstop writing.
Nowadays, I take breaks.
I walk our quarter-mile driveway to the mailbox. I walk the trails on the property. I walk the country roads. I walk laps around the playground while my youngest kids play. It’s 2 p.m. now and I’m at nearly 5,000 steps.
My efforts have paid off. I’ve stopped gaining weight.
But that is not enough.
My daughter is running on her school’s cross-country team this fall. She needs to build her endurance and I vowed to help her. To do so, I need to lose weight and get back in shape again. So, a few weeks ago, I started doing five minutes of floor exercises every other day and jogging a bit on my walks.
Last week, I ran a mile with her at the track and even did a little speedwork.
I jumped roped for ten minutes a couple of evenings and I swam half a mile the other day at the YMCA.
It’s too soon to see any results on the scale, but something cool happened last night.
My husband and I were talking as we walked the quarter-mile hill that is our driveway at a fairly brisk pace. I realized as we neared the top that I wasn’t short of breath. Not at all. Not even a teensy bit.
That had never happened before.
The feeling that overwhelmed me was much like completing the first quarter of a new novel. I know I have a long ways to go toward my goal, but I feel motivated. Invigorated. I feel like this is going somewhere and that each step brings me closer, just as each paragraph brings me closer to the end of a novel.
My productivity as a writer has suffered, but not nearly as much as I’d feared.
I’m fine with that because when I do finally get published, I’d like to be healthy enough to enjoy the royalties.

Running, running, running, running, running …

It was cool and raining.
Water seeped through my windbreaker and dripped from the rim of my hat as I ran down Main Street in our little town last night.
In the darkness, it was a bit like trail running.
I jumped around puddles that I didn’t see until I was upon them, I leaped over broken chunks of sidewalk. I strained to balance as I slipped on wet leaves. While passing under a street light, I glanced at the Garmin watch my husband had lent me.
I’d run almost 3 miles and I hadn’t even thought about running.
I had been lost in thought and in the challenge of keeping my footing.
I was running like I used to run more than five years ago before I became pregnant with the twins.
My body was straining, but my mind was free of it.
I had finally regained enough fitness to disconnect the physical from the mental.
I fell in love again … with running.
I am heavier than I was in my marathoning days and I certainly won’t be setting personal records in 5Ks any time soon. My pace was slow, more of a jog than a run. But I felt it again — that release that hooked the first time back in my teenage years.
I’ve regained that part of me.
I am back.
I am really back.

Home is where the headstones are

With the twins entering preschool this fall, I decided it was time to reclaim my running legs. So I went for a walk/run the other day in my new town along a route recommended by my sister-in-law.
The route took me through a local cemetery, which was appropriate; By the time I got there, I wanted nothing more than to take a long rest.
So I walked.
I have run through many cemeteries over the years, but I haven’t walked though one in decades. Not since I was a child. As a child, I would run from stone to stone, seeking out familiar names and looking for the grave of my sister, who died as a baby when I was only two years old.
I derived a sense of comfort from cemeteries back then even though I was generally terrified of anything involving death. The bodies that lie under my feet were those of relatives or the relatives of friends. They were people who were part of my history.
I felt, oddly, at home.
But I did not get that sense here.
Here, in this cemetery, in the community where I will live for the rest of my life, where we will raise our four children, where my husband grew up, was evidence of a certain status I will never achieve. I am an outsider. I always will be, no matter how deeply entrenched I become.
And that is okay.
I have my own hometown.
My own cemeteries.
I have another place that has fused within my core and will always be part of who I am.
But our kids don’t have that.
Two were born in Arizona, and two were born in Cincinnati.
Their roots have easily come loose with each move, leaving little or nothing behind. (Well, not as easily for the older kids this time around. We had to tug a little harder and their leaves are still a bit droopy and wilted from the shock, but I am confident they will recover and flourish.)
I had never understood the need for the formalities of cemeteries before, for gravestones and memorials and family plots. My irrational fears dictate that I be cremated after death, and I hadn’t given much thought to where my ashes would land.
My husband has strong feelings though, so I agreed long ago to his request that, when our souls are long gone from this world, my ashes will lie with him, wherever he might choose.
But on this day, I started to understand something. I understood that this isn’t just about me. This is about our children and their children and their children. This is about that feeling, that sense of belonging.
Home.
Our hope is that this is the place where our children will grow roots so strong that no one and nothing can rip them out, regardless of where they settle in adulthood. This will be the place they can come home to no matter how long they have been away.
A sense of history and of their place within that history will help those roots grow thick, deep and strong.
Cemeteries provide some of that nourishment.
A great deal more than I realized.
And this cemetery, in particular, provided me with nourishment of a different kind. After passing all those gravestones– lingering long enough to read the names and the dates of death and birth and realizing that they were often far to close together –I found the motivation to pick up my pace again.
It was hot.
I was (and am) horribly out of shape.
But I ran.
Just a couple of quarter-mile stretches.
But I ran.