Inspired by the London Marathon? Why running is like writing… (and vice versa)

Congratulations to all the London Marathon runners today! I was watching on television and itching to put my own trainers on. It feels like ages since the Edinburgh marathon and I admire everyone who’s put in all the effort and training.

All this running talk means I think it’s the right time to re-post one of the most popular blogs I’ve written, which was inspired by my Marathon training!

Why running is like writing… (and vice versa)
January 13th, 2012

As I stepped out of the front door of my apartment block this morning, the air was frosty but the sky was bright and clear. The perfect kind of morning to run the four miles in to work rather than cram myself onto a sardine-like train from the UK’s busiest train station. I’ve learned to love running now, but at the moment it’s classified as ‘training’ until May 27, 2012, when I complete the Edinburgh Marathon.

Me running in the Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon in 2009 – my first proper race

In fact, in a lot of ways training for a marathon is a lot like writing a novel. Here are my reasons why…

1. You need the right gear… but gear won’t do the work for you!
Yes, you need the right gear to run. Properly fitted trainers, clothes that wick away sweat, maybe a heart-rate monitor so you can judge the improvements in your fitness… they will all help to better your training. But you can get carried away with gear – Nike+ or a GPS running watch? Barefoot running shoes or comfortable, sturdy Asics? You can get carried away with writing gadgets too. Plain Microsoft Word or Scrivener? Fountain pen or ball-point? Laptop? iPad? Spiral notebook? To start running you really just need a pair of running shoes, some clothes you can sweat in, and the road. Just like all you really need to write is good old pen and paper. You can’t let the pursuit of perfect gear prevent you from starting.

2. There are no shortcuts
When training for a marathon, you gotta put in the miles. There’s just no getting around it. Yes, when I’m running to work I’m sometimes tempted to detour toward the bus stop I know will take me straight to the office. But I know that that’s not going to help me on marathon day. Same with writing a novel – you have to put the words down on paper, or else you’re never going to end up with a finished product.

3. Sometimes you feel you’re not getting anywhere
I’m now running anywhere between 20-30 miles/week but when it comes to getting fitter, sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. Some runs are just plain hard, and I don’t understand why my body will scream against a 4-mile run when it ran 8 miles the week before. Writing feels like that sometimes. There are times when I feel like my writing is not getting any better (it might even be getting worse!), and the finish line feels further away than it ever did before. The only solution to this, I find, is to switch it up. Instead of a run, I jump on the cross-trainer at the gym, or go to the climbing wall with a work friend. Instead of forcing myself to write another paragraph on Oathbreaker 2, I’ll do a freeform writing exercise, or update the blog, or read a book to get inspired.

4. You need to have the proper fuel
In order to run, you have to fuel your body properly. My pre-run breakfast consists of porridge and a banana – boring, but it works! And for any run longer than about 6 miles, I take a bottle of orange-flavour Lucozade Sport. For this month’s Lucky 13s 13th day post, all the 13ers (including moi) are discussing what they eat and drink to get them through their writing days.

5. There will be pain
I’ve actually been fairly lucky when it comes to running injuries and (touch wood) I’ve never experienced anything that has been completely debilitating. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been pain, however! Pain in muscles I didn’t even know I had. Soreness that won’t disappear for days, blisters in between my toes, twinges in my knees and beside my shin bone. In writing, there is pain too. The pain of rejection – injuring the pride you didn’t even really know you had – the agony of not being able to solve a plot point in a storyline that you created, the reviews that cut to the bone… oh yes, and the most common of writing ailments: the dreaded papercut! Sometimes those sting really bad, man…

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I haven’t completed the marathon yet, but I have completed a novel and I can imagine those experiences will have some similarities too. Friends, family and complete strangers will marvel, and say that they could never do a thing like that… they couldn’t run a mile, or they couldn’t dream of putting down that many words. But what they don’t realize is that to achieve those goals you just have to put in the miles, put in the sweat, put in the tears.

Or at the very least, give it a go. And if it’s not a marathon or a whole novel yet, start with a 10K race or a short story.

For every writing or running journey, you gotta start somewhere.

#Livetweetingofadebutbookdelivery

So today I had the day off of work, with a plan to do loads of writing, a fair bit of admin, send out invites to my launch party, tidy the flat, etc. etc.

Needless to say, THE DAY HAD OTHER PLANS. It started with an e-mail from my editor informing me that my finished hardbacks had arrived hot off the press… and one was being biked over to me that very moment.

I did, I’m unashamed to say, actually start crying at that point, but you know… it’s an emotional day!

So for the rest of the morning, I was waiting impatiently for this man:

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The bike man! The bike man! He had a package for me, which I immediately ripped open to reveal…

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THE FINISHED COPY!! Oh wow oh wow oh wow. My reaction was something like this:

reactions

And then I ran taking pictures of it from every angle like a loon, but my favourite is seeing it on the bookshelf, with all my faves:

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And then I bored everyone on Facebook and Twitter with my incessant tweets… but you know, you only debut once 🙂

Amyx

Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman (impersonators)

Last night, I was lucky enough to secure tickets to see Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman in conversation at the Cambridge Theatre in Soho, London (normally the home of Matilda – the musical – a fitting place for two children’s authors to be talking if ever there was one!).

Unfortunately though, earlier on that day Philip was taken to hospital, and you could sense the whole theatre sending good vibes and well wishes his way. Luckily Neil had managed to round up some “Pullman impersonators” in the form of Meg Rosoff and Audrey Niffenegger! If we couldn’t have Pullman, then we couldn’t get much better as far as replacements go. Audrey kicked the evening off by reading one of the fairy tales from Pullman’s Grimm Tales, “The Three Snake-Leaves”, which gave the audience a perfect taster of fairy tale-style justice.

Neil Gaiman, Rosie Boycott, Meg Rosoff and Audrey Niffenegger on stage at the Cambridge Theatre

For any aspiring writers out there, there were some great tips from Neil and Meg. Meg’s major advice was to “not be in such a rush”. I think this is a pretty important point, and later on they brought up the old adage that you have to write a million words before you write a good one. Neil’s advice was simple, and effective: if you want to be a writer, just write. Wise words!

The Lucky 13s might find it interesting to know that they talked about superstitions too! Neil Gaiman’s superstition had to do with having to use a different colour ink for each writing day, while Meg turned out to be inclined towards all sorts of superstitions – especially new ones she hadn’t heard of yet! (One new one for the night: don’t bring lilac into the house… I wonder why, lilac is really pretty!)

Neil then ended the show with a reading of his new scary short story ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’. It’s not easy to terrify a huge audience in a theatre decorated with scrabble tiles, but somehow he managed it! And if you’re curious, just in time for Hallowe’en, you can download your very own copy of Neil’s recording of ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’ for FREE from Audible.co.uk for only 36 hours more, so go go go now (or Audible.com for anyone outside UK). Even better, for every free download, Audible will donate 50p to Booktrust, which is just amazing.

Afterwards I was extraordinarily privileged to hang out with some amazing writers, late into the night. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me… I’d just delivered my line edits to my editor and was feeling, quite frankly, like crap. The line edits themselves were not at all the problem – they were spot on, and a piece of cake after the structural edit! – but as I was reading through the manuscript for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t shake this creeping, pervasive feeling that the book was just plain bad – I couldn’t stand the sight of those words, I couldn’t tell if they made any sense any more, whether the book had any sort of structure or pace or characterization… Thankfully, as I said, I was among those who knew exactly how I felt. In fact, as I shared my anxieties with the other writers, and as I could see them recognize exactly what I was going through, it made me feel a lot better. I was well assured that these feelings were normal, even necessary, and maybe even a good sign. And thank god for that, because I thought I was going crazy.

It just goes to prove what I think is the most valuable writing advice: don’t do it alone. Find other writers, whether its in person or online, and share this crazy journey together. And meet your heroes. Because luckily in this business, they tend to be really friggin awesome.

 

Writing updates, sad news, and other miscellany

It rather amazes me the things I will come up with to procrastinate from writing. Tonight I came home and decided to be exceedingly domestic, whipping up two recipes I’ve never tried before. The first was a homemade broccoli soup – and it was so easy I’m not sure why I haven’t done it before. I don’t use my blender much (something about it screams ‘LOTS OF WASHING UP TO COME’), but in the end it was quick and delicious. My second recipe was my Herman the German cake (if you haven’t heard about one of these, check out the story behind it here), which was given to me by our digital marketeer at work. I made it with apple, cinnamon and chocolate chips. You know, because I can. It is also delicious, which is surprising because I had to keep it alive first, which was challenge enough!

At any rate, I am now sitting at my desk, cup of tea and slice of Herman cake close at hand, candle lit (I have to write in as close to near-darkness as possible – I know, you’re finding out too much about me now, aren’t you?), excuses put to the side. I’m in the middle of a secret WIP – although by writing this post, I’m kind of outing the secret! – that is distracting me while I wait for edits for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. It’s a strange process, writing another book, because I don’t feel like I’ve been in this creative state for ages. For the past few years it’s all been about making Oathbreaker the best book it can be, and that means revising and rewriting – its own kind of creativity, sure, but not the putting-brand-new-words-on-a-blank-piece-of-paper kind. Not the rip-your-heart-out, destroy-your-writing-confidence, adrenaline-rush-of-new-ideas kind. It’s both scary and exhilarating. It makes me want to do anything to avoid it (see procrastination above), and it makes me feel sick with anticipation when I’m not doing it. It’s a creative Catch-22.

(c) Les Edwards 2005

Today has been a strange day – it was meant to be quiet at work, but then the devastating news came through of Ray Bradbury’s passing. He was one of my great literary heroes, ever since reading Fahrenheit 451 blew my tiny mind in the eighth grade, and knowing he was part of the Voyager stable is part of what makes me feel so honoured and proud to work there. And so, I’m going to take advice today from him. One of the greats.

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” (Ray Bradbury)

And try to not think I will, Mr Bradbury. Rest in Peace.

Travel round-up… and all that fantasy authors have to live up to.

Well, the trip is over and I’m finally home after a quick pitstop in Vienna. Already I’ve had one day at work and it hardly feels like I’ve been gone at all! Oh yes, except when I came back after work and sorted through all 1,500 photos (just that many?)… it’s been an unbelievable experience, and I can’t recommend Oasis Overland highly enough. We saw loads but barely had to make a single decision – which made it incredibly relaxing too. The pace was great, and we never felt rushed through a site (or, for that matter, bored of one!)

Highlights?

  • Camel ride to the Pyramids of Giza
  • Abu Simbel
  • Haggling the markets of Aswan
  • Hot-air ballooning over Luxor
  • Tomb of Rameses VI in the Valley of the Kings
  • My quattro stagioni birthday cake in Hurghada
  • Breakfast at Shams in Dahab
  • Night Dive bioluminesence
  • Wadi Rum scenery
  • That first glimpse of the Treasury in Petra

Egypt and Jordan are both destinations that have been high on the ‘to visit’ list for quite some time, but that desire became even more heightened after selling The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. I’ve got a few videos coming up (probably over next week) that will tell you exactly why these far-flung destinations mean so much to the book.

But even more than being just ‘inspiration’, being privileged enough to actually visit these sights and not just stare wistfully at other people’s travel blogs has been a humbling experience. As an avid reader of fantasy, I’m used to being swept away to exotic locations that I can never hope to visit. But the more I travel, the more I’ve come to realize that, as fantasy authors have our work cut out for us trying to imagine anything more weird and wonderful than some of the locations that already exist on this planet.

But boy, do we have fun trying.

Over on The Lucky 13s: Novel Superstitions

Today, I’m back over blogging for The Lucky 13s for Superstitions Week! Who are some of your favourite superstitious characters from novels?

Novel Superstitions

Very superstitious… writing’s on the wall.

Just a little Stevie Wonder to get you in the mood!

For any new readers to The Lucky 13s blog, do you know that at the end of our introduction posts, all the Lucky 13s have to mention their favourite superstition? Mine is from a poem by A.A. Milne called ‘Lines and Squares’: never step on the cracks in the pavement – or else you might get eaten by a bear.

Read more…