Marathon writing

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. Then gradually I write one page and then another.” – John Steinbeck

I take a perverse comfort in knowing that a winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature felt the same trepidation and prevailing sense of failure that I feel when faced with my own work in progress.

The problem with successfully writing a novel – and a good novel, no less – in 24 days is that it becomes the new expectation. Mind, I’m the only one who expects me to repeat this feat, but the pressure, however self-imposed, is still so prevalent. And as such, it becomes frustrating that The WIP seems to be taking so long.

Most people do not write novels in 24 days. I have to remind myself of this fact. Moreover, it usually takes a great deal of time to put words on paper (or onto the screen) in such a way that the prose and dialogue reads easily from the printed page. And yet, despite this knowledge, I refuse to believe that WTRPCPSU is an anomaly. In my mind, there’s no reason this can’t be the norm. I mean, why can’t I spew a couple thousand words each day and have them make perfect sense?

My approach to The WIP has been different from WTRPCPSU, though. In fact, everything about it is different. I mean, when I initially sat down to write WTRPCPSU, it was just for fun. I did it for the challenge. But The WIP is different. It’s not just that I’m terrified of the Sophomore Slump. It’s not just worrying about disappointing my agent or this overwhelming need to prove that I’m not a fluke.

It’s like when I trained last year to run my first 5K. I wanted to prove that I could do it. And I did it. It may not have been the best speed ever and my older niece may have run it faster than I did, but I didn’t care. I did it.

The next race was a 12K, and it wasn’t a much fun. Oh, sure, I did it, but my approach to training for it was different, and because I had expectations, it was harder. Even worse was the next 12K, but for that race, I really didn’t train much at all for it. I had fun doing it because I was with my sister and our friends, and I was euphoric when it was over, but I didn’t feel that same enthusiasm for it that I did with that first 5K, and I didn’t finish it as fast as I expected to.

And I think that’s where my problem lies. I have expectations. Normally, that’s not a bad thing, but in this case, it’s become debilitating. Back when my expectation was just to finish a story without regard to its quality, writing was no big deal. Now I feel like each of my words carry an untold weight. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.

I need to view each book as its own race, independent of the one before it. Maybe WTRPCPSU was like a race on a fast, flat pavement. The WIP, then, is like a race on hilly terrain, making it a very different kind of race. As such, I need to remind myself that it’s okay to take more time to finish this.

Just like I was always careful to take care of myself and ensure I didn’t injure myself when I was training or racing, I need to allow myself the same courtesy while I write. After all, I gave myself permission to take breaks whenever I ran.

I need to be good to myself when I write, too.


  1. tracycembor

    I think the good days I have writing, where a thousand words magically appear, leads to expectatations, which leads to failure on the bad days. Some days I can pour a scene onto a page, no problemo. The other days, ugh, let’s not talk about those. Except that is what you are discussing, how building your expectations too high is just something else, like your inner critic, that you need to overcome. It’s so funny to say that success can become a hurdle to future success, but it’s true.

    • E.M.

      It’s very true: Success too early means feeling like a failure later, even when your “failure” by anyone else’s standards is still a success. I think the moral here is that everyone experiences failure sooner or later, only when you experience it later, it’s seems so much more bitter because you’ve already tasted success.

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