A long time ago (we're talking years, here, people...maybe even a full decade), I traveled to Vermont to watch a friend run a marathon.
The prospect of standing around with utter strangers for two and a half hours while I waited for my friend to finish his run seemed daunting, so I signed up for the accompanying half-marathon (13 miles) that morning.
I'd never gone more than seven miles in a single run.
The run was long, and hilly, and I made it through ten miles before I decided that sitting around, eating apple cider donuts with strangers would have been the smarter choice, but when I finally limped across the finish line, it was with a sense of accomplishment, of pride.
Years later, I trained for, ran, and actually enjoyed another half-marathon. I'm signed up for another one in December. The training hurts sometimes. I get blisters, sore muscles, tendonitis in my left foot. But if I want to do something better than limp across a finish line, I have to train.
Lesson learned? Not quite.
Yesterday, I completed my first-ever triathalon. Like with my first half-marathon, it was an impulse decision. I've been swimming a bit this summer, loving it, and Charles and I took a semi-long bike ride together a few weeks ago, so clearly, in my mind I was ready.
Heh. I so wasn't.
I did the biking portion on a mountain bike, in the wrong gear. I exerted a ridiculous amount of effort to go slower than everyone around me, and though I did fine in the swim and the run, my bike time was so bad I finished last in my age group.
But. When I finally limped (ok, danced giddily thanks to a final surge of adrenaline) across that finish line on jelly-weak legs, it was with a sense of accomplishment, of pride.
And now I know - I need a better bike, I need to train, and I NEED to try another one. The training will hurt, and I don't even begin to know what'll happen the first time I crash a bike, but I have to do it. Especially if I ever want to stride across that finish line on iron-strong legs.
But this makes me realize: this is just who I am. Random. Impulsive. My athletic pursuits closely mirror my literary pursuits.
Case in point:
I wrote my first novel after a friend suggested I give it a shot. I'd never written anything longer than 5,000 words; I'd have told you my fiction was terrible. And still, I did it. When I typed "The end" on my 59,000 word manuscript, it was with a sense of accomplishment, of pride.
But it was terrible. Poorly written, plot gaps the size of the Grand Canyon.
In short, I had to train. I had to go back, re-write, add, subtract, and turn it into something with which I'd eventually fall in love.
See? The editing? It's like the training. Painful sometimes, not as exciting as the races themselves, but necessary to ultimately succeed.
I've written two more novels since, and as with races, nothing matches the unbridled joy of creating something out of nothing, of filling a once-blank screen with words that mean something to me and (eventually) to readers.
But what makes the writing good, what makes the books good, is the time spent in the trenches, day in and day out, editing, tweaking, and honing my skills to make a story shine.
So for me, this is the secret. If I want to do something new, I have to try it. Get out there and do it. Running, biking, writing. It doesn't matter. It doesn't work to sit around and think about doing it. I just...go try.
Only then will I have the incentive to do the dirty work needed to make something truly fun and exciting.