I was tempted to title this post “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” because that’s exactly how I’m feeling this week.
When I’m writing for print publication, I become a very careful writer. I hone my prose. I go for precision. It’s the way I was taught, by writers like David Jauss, Sue Silverman, Robin Hemley, Chris Noel, and especially the demanding, say-it-like-it-is Pamela Painter (who once drew a giant red X across a page of one of my short stories, accompanied by a single word: “No!”). I will never be a writer who slaps out a novel or nonfiction book in a few months and ships it off to market. At least, I hope I’m never that writer. The writer I hope always to be is the wordsmith: The person who pays attention to each brushstroke.
All this is to say that, as I work on the very last touches of my novel, I feel like I’ve been working forever. I’m exhausted.The finish line seems so close I can almost touch it . . . but not quite. As athletes put it: I’m hitting the wall. So I need a boost—a jolt of inspiration and energy that will get me through the last lap.
Over the years, I’ve discovered there are several things that help when I'm in the final stage of a long project. When my energy flags or I start thinking, It's good enough: I should just send it out, these are the things I think about to keep myself on task. They work every time.
1. Pride. Yes, I could just decide the heck with it: The novel’s good enough, I’m sticking it in the mail and getting on with my life. But I’d rather not send it off saying “it’s good enough.” I'd prefer to be saying, “it’s as good as I can get it.” I don’t mean perfect. I don’t mean the next great contribution to American letters. I mean as well wrought as I can manage. When my novel lands on my agent’s desk, I want it to be a source of great pride for me. That pride keeps me going.
2. The thought that I’m doing something a lot of other people out there can’t, or at least haven't. If you have ever completed a book-length work, you've done something the majority of people will never do. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Easy is microwaving popcorn, watching a movie, watering a plant. Books are art. The difficulty, the slowness, the challenge, they're what it’s all about.
3. The next project. For most writers, there is always a next project. There is that memoir they’ve been considering for years. That new genre they want to try out. Or even the sequel to what they just wrote. There is something awaiting them. Something that will lead to new vistas, new experiences, new challenges. You’ve finally made it to the top of that mountain peak, and what lies on the other side? Another peak! It may be ironic, but the new challenge awaiting me is part of what keeps me going on my current project.
4. The simple process of putting one foot in front of the other. Call it momentum. Call it persistence. Call it dogged determination. It’s that feeling that you’re just going to get this thing done, dammit. Complain about it, maybe. Swear under your breath. But keep going, Keep going. Keep going.
One thing I know for sure: I’ll get through this last lap. Exhausted, with aching calves, and lungs gasping for air, no doubt. But I’m going to cross that finish line, and then I’m going to celebrate. Or collapse. Either way, I’ll be there. I’ll have finished my book.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...