In late April, 2010, I ran my first (and perhaps only) marathon. It was something I had wanted to do since becoming a runner about 5.5 years prior. You read enough running magazines and blogs and everyone talks about doing a marathon. So I figured I should do one too. I was also anticipating the launch of 168 Hours at that point, and thought it would be fun to talk about running a marathon as something one could fit into 168 hours.
Indeed, training for a marathon turned out to be a very straightforward time management question. The approach would work for any big-but-straightforward goal, especially if the underlying habit is already part of one’s life. You find a plan that has worked for other people. You figure out how much time each step in the plan takes. You block that quantity of time into your schedule, and figure out how you will regroup when life intervenes. I blocked 7 or so hours of running per week into my life for 16 weeks in specified quantities. I didn’t stick 100 percent to the plan. I dropped down from one 20-mile run to a 10-mile-run because it was sleeting that morning. Another 17-miler turned into a 12-miler because I was feeling lousy from 2 miles in. But I did finish most of my long runs (including another 20-miler), and did a fair amount of tempo and speed work too. As a result, I crossed the finish line of the Big Sur International Marathon more or less like my training plan said I would.
I did not get the marathon bug after. I realized through the experience that there is little that a marathon adds to my life that a half marathon does not, and training for 13 miles is easier to fit into normal life. Nonetheless, it was good to see that small steps, done repeatedly, do add up like they’re supposed to.
I’ve felt the same way about doing National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” these past few weeks. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to doing it, because once I commit to something, I feel like I should follow through. But I thought about it, and realized that 1700 words per day (ok, 1667 x 30) was a doable quantity. The quote I put in my newsletter was that it would be 2 hours of writing a day, or 60 over the course of the month. I got the 2 hour figure from an interview with the NaNoWriMo executive director. Given that November has 721 hours, that should be doable, or at least as doable as finding 7 hours per week to run. After all, writing can be done comfortably even if it’s sleeting, and I can write at 5:30 a.m. when it’s pitch black out.
And it was doable. I hit word count 50,000 (the goal) on Sunday morning. One thing helping me was that 2 hours daily was an overestimate. When I turn off the inner critic, I write fast. If I sat down to crank out the 1700 words in a concentrated block of time, I could do it in an hour. One day, I did it in 35 minutes. I did the last 5000 words in a 2-hour block on Sunday morning during which I was up changing TV shows for my daughter during the latter half. I also figured out that if quality wasn’t the goal, I didn’t need concentrated blocks of time. We all have bits and pieces of time here and there, like while waiting for a phone call. I’m not quite sure what I did in that time when I didn’t have a daily word count goal. Maybe I checked email or social media more frequently, though I definitely feel like I spent quite a bit of time on both this month. I still turned in my regular assignments, and exercised. At least for me, it turns out that time is highly elastic. I may feel like I have a lot going on in my life, but there is still space.
As for the novel itself…well, it’s got a big maybe over it right now. Words 1 through 10,000 were relatively easy as I wrote down the loose bit of stuff I had in my head. Words 10,000 through 35,000 were kind of painful. I wasn’t sure where the plot was going. When I hit a wall, I’d start writing somewhere else, at a different point in time, in a different place. But by 35,000 words, I had a reasonable sense of my characters, and the outline was fleshed out enough that I could go through and find notes like “the characters have a conversation about her moving out of the house” and I’d think “oh, I could write that conversation.” And I would. And that would be an easy few hundred words or more.
I may keep going for a bit. I’ll take a bit of a breather from the 1700-words-a-day goal, but I think if I write another 20,000-30,000 words I’ll know for sure if this could work. And then I could begin the hard work of re-writing with a solid outline in mind. But I do know that turning something into something better is a much easier task than creating something from nothing. So as with the marathon, I’m glad I’ve crossed the finish line, even if I’m not sure that I’ll do it again.
In other news: I had an essay in the New York Times’ business section on Sunday called “The Introvert at the Podium.”
The ebook of my other novel, The Cortlandt Boys (the non NaNoWriMo one) will be out around December 16. If you’ve always said, “hey, I appreciate that Laura has no ads or affiliate links on her blog, and I’d really love to do something to support her,” buying the ebook will be your chance.
Photo: Near the finish line of the Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon (I ran the half in 2013).