Marathon running for writers


I have never been very good at sport. Actually, to be completely accurate, I have never been any good at sport.
In his youth, my father was not only a good runner, but a talented footballer too. The one and only time I ever put my foot to soccer, I managed to catch a stray ball with my stomach. Being winded is no laughing matter, though I remember a few less than straight faces feigning concern as I wheezed my I’m-fine speech.
I longed to emulate my mother by being chosen for the school netball team. I was chosen for the school netball team. No one else volunteered to be goalkeeper. Goalkeeper was the only position the teacher would let me play because: a) I was taller than all the other twelve year olds: b) the goalkeeper is confined to a very small part of the court: c) waving your arms about to prevent the ball going through the net rarely involves actually having to catch the ball.
Gymnastics. How I would have loved to cartwheel and back-flip and trampoline like my sister! She won medals for it. I once stayed to after school gymnastics club. Once. Apparently, there are health and safety issues surrounding a trampoliner who gets their head caught between the elastic thingies that tie the bouncy-trampoline-sheet to the frame. (Note my lack of technical vocabulary when it comes to all things gymnasticy-trampoliney related; that’s what happens when you’re only allowed to attend one session.)
Something else I have never been any good at is judging distance. Add that to my never-been-any-good-at-sport and my willingness (once upon a time) to volunteer and surely the word disaster should have come to mind? Fifteen hundred metres is rather a long way to run for someone who has difficulty walking even a short distance without tripping over their own feet. But you have to understand; my school needed the points if it were to stand any chance of winning the County Inter-school Sports Championship. And no other schools had any competitors in the over 16 category. My fellow pride-in-our-school volunteer agreed we should run side-by-side. After all, we reasoned, with no other schools entering runners in that category, we were guaranteed the glory of gaining both first and second place points, ergo no need to try and beat each other. And side by side, united, is how we trained together. Twice. A couple of hundred metres each time.
I didn’t know it was called ‘being lapped’. The last eight minutes or so of my lonely race (it transpired that my fellow pride-in-our-school volunteer/lapper just couldn’t maintain my tortoise-like trot) were gruelling, particularly to the shouts of: ‘Give up!’ (Several vociferous spectators exercised their whistling and jeering skills the day of that particular Championship.) Undaunted, I staggered over the finish line, lungs fit to burst, legs threatening never to hold me upright again, and fell into my father’s arms. Mum helped him hold me up. They, at least, were proud of me.
So, by putting one foot after the other after the other after the other, I ran my race and secured second place points for my school. Would it have won the Championship without me? Who knows. But what I do know is that I will never run fifteen hundred metres again. Ever.
I’ve read a couple of things recently which have put me in mind of that seventeen year old me, running a race I hadn’t realised would be so long or so hard. When I began to write my first novel, I didn’t expect that it would take me more than three years to complete, nor that, three years on from completion, less than half a dozen pairs of eyes would have read it. Perhaps that will never change. As I finish the last edits on my most recent novel (my third), I am preparing to turn further research and notes into a fourth, whilst plots and characters for future stories jostle for my attention, hoping their turn will be next. My novel, ‘Strong as Death’, which I published as an ebook on Amazon in February this year, has now been downloaded in six different countries. I am beginning to receive (so far positive) reviews from readers I have never met. Will my writing ever earn me an income that means I can give up the day job? Who knows? But what I do know is that, having started this writing ‘race’, lapped as I may be by the more talented, the more successful, discouraged as I no doubt will be by the rejections, the unfavourable reviews that may come my way, this writing marathon is one I have no desire to quit. And, unlike my sporting endeavours, the more I write, the more I fall in love with the magic of the exhaustion, the frustration, the slog and the discipline that comes with the transforming of worlds and characters that only I know about, that could only ever come from my imagination, into stories that strangers choose to lose themselves in. To anyone who is running in their own writing marathon, keep going, even when the only voices you can hear are those that shout: ‘Give up!’ Keeping on keeping on is worth every story you tell, one word after another after another after another …


23 thoughts on “Marathon running for writers

  1. Great post, Julia. You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head when it comes to describing what it’s like trying to make it as a writer. Well done for persevering, because it’s the only way to improve and break through the barriers between you and your audience. I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but when I look at my early efforts now, I can see how much I’ve learned and I’m sure it’s the same for you too. I’m sure you’ll get there in the end.


    • I hope so! And I know what you mean about early efforts. Recently, I looked out the first extended piece of writing I ever completed, a story of 5 000 words, which I believed to be not bad. I made myself blush on re reading it. So bad!!


  2. I can sort of relate to this. We did a few writing marathons to get papers finished, and in on time, for my wife’s classes this semester (I always end up helping with her papers). Her Master’s thesis for her mathematics degree was a real marathon (I did all the typesetting for the paper in LaTeX). Pure, abstract math is interesting because it rarely includes numbers, and the formulas are so complex that word processing programs’ equation editors cannot create them, so I had to use LaTeX, which I love to work in anyway.

    As far as sports go, I’ve never been into sports, team sports anyway. I was a good runner and played tennis when I was younger, and I was really good at motocross racing and daredevil jumps on motorcycles when I was in my teens (it’s amazing I lived through my teen years). The only sport I ever got really good at was bicycle racing, but to be competitive, even at the lower levels of the sport, you have to train like a pro — it’s like a second career.

    The activity, not really a sport, that I’m really best at is dance, especially ballroom and Latin dance. I almost became a professional dancer when I was 18, but decided it was better to go to college and get a degree.


    • Well, you’ve just mentioned all the other things I’m no good at! With maths, I can’t even remember my times tables (except for the 2s and 5s) though I always remember that ‘six sixes are thirty six’ because it sounds so nice 🙂 As for cycling, or anything else that requires balance, forget it. I can sort of cycle in a straight line, but turning corners involves stopping and getting off … Needless to say, I haven’t ridden a bicycle for some considerable time now. And as for dance? I took ballet lessons for almost ten years and managed to fail grade 1, where you don’t have to do much more than turn up. I stand in awe of brains that can do maths and bodies that can do balancing stuff!


  3. W. K. Tucker

    Julia, I have a quote thumbtacked to the wall behind my computer. I read it almost every day. Your excellent piece here on your personal writing journey put me in mind of it.
    “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unregarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
    –Calvin Coolidge

    So like you said above, I keep on keeping on. 🙂


  4. The quote that keeps me going is: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    It’s so easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged, but the race really does echo the experience of being an author…except you are expected to keep running, even after finishing the race–because there’s another one right ahead. Here’s to beating the odds and sticking to it, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Julia,

    I really needed to read your post today. Sometimes, I am weary , tired of running the race. Sometimes, I don’t know why I’m running or where that race ends. Sometimes, I need to be reminded with words of encouragement that the race has already been won. It is hope that keeps me running, writing, and telling the stories. You gave me hope. I am not alone! I will run until the all the words have been placed, one in front of the other.
    I’m not a sports fan either, but I was a cheerleader, tried my hand at gymnastics, basketball, (I was terrible at that. I double-dribbled the ball, after a steal, to the wrong net lol), volleyball, badminton, baseball, and racquetball. I was good at two sports – tennis and bowling. I still bowl and I was even a bowling coach when my children were growing up.
    Still, nothing was more satisfying and natural as telling a good story. So I stuck to writing because it stuck to me.
    I had an English professor who believed in me, a third grade teacher who encouraged my poetry, and family and friends who wanted to hear the next chapter of my book because they complained I wasn’t telling the story fast enough.
    I wear a ring on my pinky. It never comes off. It’s a cheap stainless steel circle that says “Hope.”
    Today, you gave me hope, hope to continue, hope to complete a project, and hope that someone else will say, “Hey, that was a great story! What else have you got?”
    I’ve got a lot to say, haven’t I?!
    So I write!
    Here’s hoping that we both make it to each finish line, not winded, but exhilarated because someone said “Hey, that was a great story! What else have you got?”


    • Tricia
      One of the best things I find with blogging is the way so many people are generous with their encouragement. Perhaps it’s because we gravitate to the people who are sailing the same boats as us?
      Since writing this post, I have had to remind myself of my own words on more than one occasion, and, as you’ll see from comments left by others, I’ve received more words of encouragement too.
      So glad to keep on keeping on in the company of cheerleaders like you! Thank you!


  6. Thank you for mentioning this post Julia. I found it pretty rather quickly. I’ve seen this “Eight stages of marathon running” as pictures, but I have never seen it as a video clip. Such fun.
    You are a marathoner Julia. Wow! The process of 3 years of writing for your novel. That is really sticking to it, persevering and following through, and I really commend you for it.
    Next time in a long race, I need to remind myself “This is not that bad, compared to other races.”
    Thank you for sharing! 🙂


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