Knowing the Course Ahead, in Running as in Writing

course aheadI recently signed up for a 10K trail race with my friend Cindy (aka The Sweet Nerd) and her husband. His company is sponsoring a team. Since joining up, I’ve gone with them on two training runs and get this – they train on the actual trail marked out by the race so that they will know the course ahead when the big day arrives.

Knowing the Course Ahead

This has been a revelation to me, first because I can’t believe it never occurred to me, and second because OMG, what a great idea. It’s not like the route is a secret. It’s posted right on the race website. Why wouldn’t we run it as many times as we can between now and then?

This past Sunday, while I was running the 6.1 miles of brutal hills, and making note of which sections really required me to dig deep, I was thinking about what an analogy this is for writing.

Outlining the Course

One of the reasons it’s taken me eight years to write my first novel is that I had no idea what story I wanted to write. I just started writing. It was like hitting the trail and running uphill, taking paths at random. It’s no wonder I’m exhausted. It’s like that old saying – if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.

Well, never again. The new novel, the one I’m working on for NaNoWriMo, is based on a 60-page outline that I spent about a year working on. I started with a few scraps of paper, compiled my ideas into a 6 page outline, ran through it again adding thoughts, then focused in on what the specific scenes would look like. I have run this “course” so many times, that the actual race (in the context of NaNoWriMo this seems particularly appropriate), feels easy compared to just stumbling along not knowing where I’m going.

Doing the Work

Not that writing isn’t hard. The race next Sunday is still going to be hard too, but I know the course ahead. In both instances, intimate awareness of the task I’m embarking on makes the whole thing so much less daunting.

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