Writer, Pace Thyself
Posted by Tina Joyce Beckett Sep 25 2012, 12:01 am
I bet you thought this post was going to be about story pacing. Not quite. But it is about learning your limits and working within them.
I’ve discovered the importance of pacing myself over the last couple of weeks. And unfortunately, I tend to be one of those people who learns the hard way. The painful way. This was brought home in an unexpected way.
After many years of doing nothing more than breaking into an occasional jog (and that was on the back of a horse), I decided to take up running again. So in December, I started the couch-to-5k plan (which I highly recommend, by the way). I made it through the whole program and thought I was on the road to the old me again. I’d worked my way up to four miles on the treadmill, and then started running outside in my neighborhood (which has several fairly steep hills). I still felt great. Then a friend of mine asked me to start walking with her. “Sure,” I said, thinking that if a little exercise was good, a lot must be…well you get the picture. Remember, I have problems pacing myself.
We got right to work, walking four miles a day on the same hilly path I’d been running on (and yes, I was still running three days a week in addition to the daily walking). Gradually, I noticed one of my ankles had started aching. Hmm…must be arthritis. I’m getting to that age, after all. I popped some ibuprofen and kept on going. For about three more weeks. Then I realized something really was wrong. My ankle was not only hurting most of the time, it was now swelling as well. My husband advised me to dial it back. Huh! What does he know? Evidently more than I did. He talked me into going to a doctor where an ultrasound revealed I had posterior tibial tendonitis. Dead stop. No running. No walking. Ten sessions of physical therapy. Only then could I gradually start exercising again. Do too much too soon, and it would flare right back up. I went from a crazy pace I thought I could sustain indefinitely to realizing my body has its limits, and I’d better learn to respect them.
So what does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit actually. Because I find myself doing the same kind of thing: writing like crazy, followed by weeks of inactivity. I’m learning that, like my running, I have to pace myself or risk burning out. So here’s what I’m trying to do.
- Enjoy the process. Like with running, I need to stop the craziness and savor each page I write. I know that’s easier said than done when I’m anxious to get a manuscript out the door or have a deadline looming. I had five books out this past year, and I was really stressed from the hectic pace. For some people it might not be an issue, but it was for me. Tendonitis is no fun, whether it’s in my ankle or in my brain (figuratively speaking).
- Be true to myself. Realize that my pace is not someone else’s. Trying to pack myself into another person’s mold or follow their exact routine can make for an exhausting, unfulfilling career. Have you ever seen someone with short, stubby legs (that would be me) try to keep up with the long, lithe strides of a person who’s six feet tall? Not going to happen. I have to set a pace that’s right for me.
- Embrace my inner plotter/pantser. Are you a pantser? Then spending weeks trying to plot every last detail of a book could make you miserable or worse, cause you to throw in the towel. For some people, once that detailed outline is complete, so is the story in their minds. The joy of discovery is gone, and along with it, the motivation to write the actual book. Are you a plotter? Deciding to use the stream-of-consciousness, let-the-words-flow method could wind up putting you in a corner, curled in a fetal position. Yes, try different things and use what works, but don’t feel like a failure if any one method doesn’t fit your personality.
- Hope for the best, anticipate the worst. The idea that “Oh, I’ll get so much more writing done if I…” Hmmm…really? My days somehow fill up with “stuff,” no matter what I do. I recently said once my kids went back to school, I’d really get moving and crank out those pages. I’m finding that I’m getting roughly the same number of pages done now that I did when I was busy with other things. Looming deadlines tend to get me moving, more than anything. That may not be true for everyone, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get a hundred pages written on any given day. Refer back to point number one: enjoy the process.
- Finally, “Learn to love the skin you’re in.” I bet that slogan sounds familiar. There’s a truth to those words in everything you do, whether it’s running, writing or something else. Find your pace…your process…your method, and learn to love it.
Have you found your writing pace? If so, I’d love to know how you got there.