Marathon Man.

     A friend of mine told me last week that the best thing about running a marathon was the mythical “wall."

     He said: “The minute you feel it coming on you, just as you know you’re about to hit it, you realize that if you keep going you’re going to experience the brilliant sensation of pushing through it.”
Personally I think he is crazy (Not for what he said, I see his point entirely, I just think he is utterly mad for wanting to run a marathon!)

     I tried to explain to him that I think writing books is a lot like running a marathon. Just like a marathon you start at the beginning with no real end in sight, just like marathon you should have trained with smaller bites at the cherry before you launch yourself into the big one. Just like a marathon, nine times out of ten nearly everyone is doing it for their own satisfaction and nobody else's, and just like a marathon it will involve hours of solitary torture, during which the rest of your family will think you are basically crazy, but will encourage you just the same.

 The Darkest Hour on Amazon     The one way it does differ is that writers don’t have one wall to push through, we have hundreds of them before we see the finish line and are in with the chance to break the tape.
      For me, my writing marathon goes a little like this:

     The first part is like the flat bit of the course at the beginning. I get a nice steady pace going, and I feel that all that training I put in is paying off. The word count goes up like the mile markers around the course and then suddenly... I hit the first wall.

     For me it usually comes around the 20k word mark. It’s around then that everything I thought I was going to write, goes straight out the window. The plot starts to wrap around me like long grass around my ankles. It slows down, keeps me looking back, changing characters, changing dialogue, tripping on details and running out of story like it breath going up a hill.

     I normally take a day or two off around this point. I take stock, refresh, think, then a deep breath and start again.

     Last time I scrapped 8k words in three hours.

     That was one very painful wall.

     When I push through that barrier there’ll be the odd trip and stumble but I normally keep on until I hit the 70k mark, and then, like grey hair and making noises when you get out the chair, along comes the inevitable second wall.

     As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I don’t really plan my novels. I like to watch them unfold like real life in real time as I write them. For me this is a great way to write, and I find it really exciting for most of the time. It's a buzz to watch my own movie in my head. I get to throw people through windows, I get to fall in love as many times as I want, I get to slap bad guys, and good guys, and then the bad guys again.
     I love it, but the only problem is, I don’t know how it is going to end.

     I write crime thrillers, which hopefully, are pretty exciting to read. They should fizz and bubble and increase in pressure right up until the cork flies out the bottle. The problem is, if I keep shaking and cranking the pressure, there often comes a moment when I stare at the screen and think:

     “I don’t know how he/she is going to get out of this.”

     And there is nothing as frustrating as writing yourself into a corner.

     It's normally wall number three, four, five, six...

     I hate cutting an extreme situation out of my work because if I do, I feel like I've cheated. The way I see it, if I've written a realistic bit of work, I should be able to think a realistic way out of the scenario my character is in.

     I often try and solve problems in real time. If John Rossett, my lead character has a few minutes, I have a few minutes to find the solution. The great thing about writing this way is if I am in the zone, my heart pounds, my mind races, and I am in that room with Rossett and the clock is ticking.

     It's the best drug in the world when it goes right, but if it doesn't, I've hit another wall, and it is usually a lot harder to push through than the first twenty of the book.

     It can sit on my shoulders for days, drifting around in my head every minute of every hour. In the store, in the car, when people are talking to me in the coffee shop or the pub. People think they have my attention, but secretly I'm hanging off a windowsill in a snowstorm/ in London in 1946.
     And then bam!

     I'm through, it comes and I'm me and Rossett are off again, charging for the finish line, excited, delighted, and blown apart by adrenaline, I'm lifting my arms as my chest breaks the tape the second after I type:

     “THE END.”

     I sit back, stare out the window and smile, I've done it.

     Except I haven’t.

     My editor will have a few more walls for me to push through before I really reach the finishing line, and they are normally a lot bigger and tougher than the ones I thought were bad.

     So remember next time you sit down to write:

     Walls are going to come, and if you want to be a writer, you'd better be ready to get climbing.


     Tony Schumacher on Amazon