The 20th Mile

November. The longest month of the year. And this year it has felt particularly arduous. I could point a finger at the presidential election, of course, but I think NaNoWriMo has been equally to blame.

I am pretty sure most of you know what NaNoWriMo is, but for those who don’t, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is an annual worldwide challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  And in a few hours, I will hopefully have achieved my third “win”.

On the two other occasions I have participated, I used the month to work on a YA children’s trilogy that’s been stewing in the great casserole of my mind for about ten years. Eventually it may see the light—probably when my sons are entirely grown up and far too old to read such things, so I am holding out for my nieces. To mix it up, this November I decided to work on another novel I have had on the back burner, a novel about a friendship  marred by a dark secret.

I rather like doing Nano.  While certain friends of mine run in actual marathons—you know, the 26.2 mile panting sort, I have chosen a challenge that allows me sit on my backside and drink copious cups of hazelnut coffee. And I get to boast about it. By the end of the month I do not have a novel because fifty thousand words does not a novel make but I have a good chunk of a novel and I have also forced myself to spend countless hours with my characters, clarifying storylines and firming up the plot. I have dreamt about them, lived with them, had conversations with them in the car. I have fallen head over heels in love with one, and broken up entirely with another.

But, like all athletes, physical and mental, there are moments when the going gets tough. There are many moments when I would much rather be doing something else (see my post: Things I did in November to Avoid Writing my Novel)  and others when I  begin to suspect the story has no merits whatsoever. And then there is that point when I literally run out of steam.

Years ago, a group of friends and I signed up for a walking marathon to raise funds for Breast Cancer Research. We worked with a trainer, the lovely Rich, who put us through our paces once a week in Richmond Park in South West London. While the cause was, and continues to be, of utmost importance, what I took away from it was the wonderful camaraderie. And those early mornings in the park, the mist over the bracken, the silhouettes of deer amongst the oaks. Anyway, those friendships have become some of the most important in my life, and Rich’s occasional acorns of wisdom, intended to galvanize his bunch of lycra-clad unfit chattering mummies, have stuck with me—particularly his point about the 20th mile. Apparently in a marathon, this is the killer, the one where the end seems impossible, and all the energy, enthusiasm and momentum of the start have worn off. This is the point where you just have to keep plodding on, where you have to dig deep to find your inner strength and self-belief. And I would say it is exactly the same for short stories and Nanos too. In every story there is a point I reach, after halfway, where it seems hopeless. I can visualize the end but the hump is too high to get there. And then I think of the park trail, and of Rich’s wisdom. I tell myself to stop whining, look at how far I have got, and keep on bloody writing.

So, Rich—the only coach I have ever had—this is a shout out to you. Thanks, mate!

Now back to work,

Sam xo

Copyright Sam Grieve 11/30/16

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