Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hitting the Wall - in Writing, Running, and Life

For those of you who are counting (which is probably only me), it's been a year since my debut released. This brings mixed feelings:

- I'm grateful that I got to live my lifelong dream.
- I'm happy that all the drama and anxiety is over.

It's no secret that I had a rough year last year. My debut experience wasn't what I'd hoped, and I was transitioning through reverse culture shock and dealing with a lot of anxiety via counseling. Through most of 2015, I was just praying that it would be over, and the last thing I wanted to do was write.

I'd hit the wall.

Recently, I've been training for a half-marathon, with the intention of then expanding my training to include a full marathon. I've been doing a lot of research and learning through this process, having new experiences and pushing my body in ways I haven't before.

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If you do even a marginal amount of research on marathon training, you'll hear runners talk about "hitting the wall." Scientifically speaking, it's defined as...

In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy.

In less scientific terms, it means that you've reached the point where you feel like your body can't move anymore. Maybe it really can't. And it's too late to refuel, too late to stomach as many gels or water as you can to keep up your energy level. Your only options are to stop or suffer through, totally miserable.

Last year, about July, I hit the writing wall. I was exhausted and wrung out, and I couldn't imagine continuing. And I was faced with a decision: quit or suffer through.

I'll be honest. I quit for a few months.

I left social media.
I had my agent pull a book off submission.
I stopped writing altogether.

In the fall, though, I started to hear this character's voice in my head. She wouldn't leave me alone. I had to write her story.

So I did.

I had no expectations. I had no goals. I just wrote. And I realized something:

Up until last fall, I'd been acting like the marathon runner, who's entered the race with a particular goal in mind. I was halfway through the race. But I hadn't properly fueled. Or maybe I just wasn't ready. And when I hit the wall, I panicked.

We hear a lot about how publishing isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Most of the time, what people are referring to is the fact that it's long and you have to have patience for every step of the way. All of that's true.

But publishing is like a marathon in another way: you have to train. You have to be ready. And you have to be properly fueled.

Because you're going to hit the wall at some point.

Maybe your agent decides you two should part ways.
Maybe your editor rejects your option book.
Maybe you can't seem to find an agent who wants to represent you.

Whatever it is, you're going to find that wall, and it's going to slam you to the ground.

The good news?

You don't have to stay down. You can quit, and that would be fine.

But you have another option.

You could be this guy:

(Make sure you watch until the end!)

Lots of stuff in our lives can derail us. And, yes, in one way, our lives are a sprint: they're short and finite, and they will all end. But looking at them in another light, our entire lives are marathons. Every aspect of them: professional, personal - mental, emotional, and spiritual. And our jobs are to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

We'll have great miles where we feel like we're going to win the entire race. But we're going to have crap miles too, where the only thing that keeps us going is the cheering and encouragement from the crowd and that inner voice that won't let you quit.

This was never more apparent to me than last year, when I was the guy in that video. I decided that I didn't want to quit - I wanted to finish the race.

How did I get past hitting the wall?

I changed my expectations.

Be honest: you have a vision in your mind of how you think (or want) your career to go. If you're a writer, you daydream about selling your book, having readers, even having fans, which are even better than readers. Maybe that happens to you. I know a lot of amazing authors who have received critical acclaim and sold tens of thousands of books.

But that wasn't my experience. And after I mourned the loss of one dream, I decided it was time to come up with a new one.

A runner who's hit the wall isn't going to have the time they hoped for. But that doesn't mean they have to quit. They can reevaluate and come up with a new goal: finish.

I want to finish my race. And I want to finish well.

For now, that means writing. I don't know where that will take me, but I do know that - even though I don't want to relive 2015 - I'm thankful that it happened. It taught me a lot about not only publishing but also about myself. Yes, it peeled some of the scales off my eyes and made me more cautious, but it also made me more resilient.

Fighters aren't only the warriors we find on TV screens or in the pages of our books. They're in everyday life, and you can be one too.