Friday, July 11, 2014

The Novel Triathlon

It’s not a sprint, and it’s more than a marathon.

It’s a test of endurance, multiple races in a row – three for me, just like a triathlon.  And each one is analogous to a leg of the Ironman (though with the events in a different order.)  Each requires the same steady persistence to make it to the end, even if each needs to be approached with a separate strategy.

The first draft is like cycling – sure there’s effort, but the power of a story untold multiplies your work so it almost feels like you’re flying along with the wind in your face.  And that’s why it’s the most fun.  Sometimes you start heading up a hill and have to put a bit more effort into maintaining your pace, but then you’ll be going downhill and can coast for a while.  But you still have to pay attention to what you’re doing, and the terrain, and what’s going on around you.  Otherwise you might crash, and that isn’t pretty.

The second leg of this three-part race is like a marathon.  I call it the Big Rewrite, but it’s the nose-to-the-grindstone hard work of re-shaping your story into its proper form.  Every step along the way takes effort, and you know you’re in for a long slog, so you take your time and keep plodding along, trusting that you’ll eventually get to the end.  The important thing to keep in mind is to not push the pace early on – you have to keep some energy in reserve for down the road.

The last leg is like swimming.  And I think there’s a good reason this isn’t the last part of an actual triathlon – because you’d be so tired from the first two races, there would be a real danger of drowning from sheer exhaustion.  That’s why it’s especially important to take a breather before this final stretch.

Tired from two long hauls, now you’re on the last leg of the journey and you just want to get to the finish line.  The trouble is – you’re on your last legs too.  And the final revisions and editing require even more vigilance than the previous portions of the race.  Because it’s at this point that getting the details right matters most.  So you certainly don’t want to let your mind wander.

This triathlon represents the main work of writing a novel – sure, there’s preparation to be done ahead of time, whether that’s just notes or full outlining, and whatever research is required, but that’s nothing compared to the actual writing.  And after your manuscript is in its final form, there’s still more to be done – like formatting and proofreading and sending out free copies.  But that’s like taking a shower after the race is done.  It may require some effort, but mostly it just feels really good.

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