Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

“I’m going to make it.”  That was my mantra during the first marathon I ran.  I felt unequal to the task, and yet I knew the course and the hills and the pain in my own body would not stop me.  Even if it killed me, I would cross that finish line.

The same mantra got me through writing a novel.  At 2:33 p.m., May 22, 2012, I typed “The End” on the last page of Ripple, my first novel.  Don’t get me wrong: I still need to do edits and deal with the business aspect of publishing it, but all of that is comparable to getting my beaten body back to the car and home after the race has ended.  And believe me, that is not an easy task.

For example, my fourth marathon took place in the mountains that surround Harper’s Ferry and the Antietam battlefield.  The day I ran that, I had bronchitis (hey I am a runner which means I am a lunatic) and the temperature was 43 degrees.  And it was raining.  At the finish line, I stood there in the rain and waited a half an hour for my husband to finish.  My man took one look at me as I stood there shivering from head to toe, and escorted me to the medical tent to be treated for hypothermia.  And then we walked a mile, and caught a bus to the car.  From there, we drove 90 minutes back home.

Like birthing a novel, running a marathon is an odyssey of pain and guts and determination.  One step follows another like one page piles on the pages before it.  When I run marathons, I must overcome my own weaknesses; indeed, I must forge strength from the fear and pain that chews away at me.  When I wrote Ripple, I had to stare down my own history of abuse and addiction and continue creating a story that in so many ways was rooted in my pain and troubled past.

When I run marathons, I fed off the crowds of strangers and friends who lines the streets.  As I have written Ripple, I have shared my struggles with the followers on my blog and Facebook page.  Their support has propelled me to the finish line.

To train for the marathons, I relied on the love and support of my family and my family. I relied on love. I also relied on God to carry me.

Throughout the writing process, I have had the great fortune to work with, laugh with, and even cry with my writing partner, Renée Schuls-Jacobson.  I wrote many passages with her on the other line, listening, adding, and improving the words I suggested.  When I called in despair, and asked, “Does this suck,” she promised me it didn’t.  If I wrote a “disaster chapter,” she was honest with me, but like a running buddy, rode shotgun with me and helped me fix it.

Toward the end of Ripple, I almost fell apart as I penned an especially graphic abuse scene.  It brought my demons back.  I had reached “The Wall,” which is what marathoners call it when the lactic acid builds up in their muscles at around the 21-mile mark.  I wanted to quit because writing the scene made me want to start drinking again.  She listened to me.  And then the best writing buddy in the world pushed me to keep moving.  And I did.

The best thing about writing Ripple, aside from finishing it, has been the friends I’ve made along the way.  Thank you so much, all of you.  And most of all, thank you Renée.  I love you.  And you’ll finish the 26.2 miles soon.  I promise.

32 Comments on “Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

  1. hi el, great that I found your blog, I like it very much and love your sense of running. Earlier I was a mountainbiker, but 3 years ago I started with running. I couldn’t imagine how great it is to run, now I can’t stop anymore. Running recentered my life. Wish you good luck with publishing Ripple and many hellish runs – let’s rock that body 🙂

    • Hello Daniel! It’s great to see you here! And that makes me grin: let’s rock on!!! Running re centered me too–it always has made me a better and happier woman. So glad you have it as an outlet as well. And thank you re Ripple!

  2. This is so exciting to read. I have done 2naratgons and have 17,000 words on a novel. I hope to follow in your footsteps! Bravo.

  3. Someday someone is going to figure out how I can run with all my injuries. The idea of being able to take on something that would allow me to push through weakness is so appealing, I want this. Your description makes me want it even more! I am so grateful I found you.

    Congrats on finishing your book, at last you can now take a small breath before you start the next stage.

    • I hear you Valentine!! I never thought I could run with all of this chronic pain (long story) but I am going to be in pain no matter what I do, so I may as well run!! And I am so grateful that we found each other!! Your comments on religion were just awesome!! And I am still contemplating Hell and the Bible!!

      Thank you so much re the novel! We are going away on vacation tomorrow, just me and my husband. :Sigh:

  4. Huge congrats to you, El! So happy for you! It must feel so exhilarating to finally finish that book! I know I’m already getting a bit tired of people asking me, “so how’s the book going? Are you done with the book yet?” haha!

  5. CONGRATULATIONS! I am SO happy for you – what an accomplishment! I think the comparison to marathon running is spot on. Which, uh oh, means I might have a prologue in me, and a couple of haikus.

    Did I mention I can’t wait to read Ripple?? 🙂

  6. Congratulations! I’m writing a book, myself. I don’t foresee it ever being done. It’s a guide to life with personal anectdotes. Meh.

  7. I’m weeping with joy for you. Thank you for your generous words. Your book is epic. You are the blessing that came into my life. And you know I had hoped we’d cross the finish line together… I wanted to hold hands! 😉

    I’ll just be a little behind is all. Don’t leave me, pardner. I’m coming!

    • Pardner–I will never leave you. Like any good running buddy, I will jog a few miles back and find you on the course. We’ll run it in together–so we can hold hands then. We’re on the same team even if this is a solitary process. We’re always there for each other! xo

  8. A huge congratulations to you! Beautifully written analogy to marathoning. I’ve loved every post, every blog, every quote that you post, so I imagine I’m going to love Ripple as well! I look forward to reading it.

    Perhaps you can train with me so I can finish a marathon, and perhaps Renee can be my writing partner so I can pen my book. Now, there’s a great plan :).

  9. “When I wrote Ripple” – – – something wet got in my eyes when I read these words. I’m so PROUD of you, El, and so IMPRESSED by you, and a little jealous because I can’t (yet) say those words. You did it!

  10. I’ve got a new book coming out in March. The first sentence is, “I’m not the first person to say, “Writing a book is like running a marathon”. ”

    Overthinking the Marathon is like having me as your partner for a season of training, 17 weeks that culminate in the 2012 Cape Cod Marathon. Some days I talk about the nitty-gritty details, other days, it’s about the things that make running interesting and fun, even – no, especially – when it hurts.

    Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner and Runner’s World editor-at-large, says, “Ray Charbonneau insists he hasn’t written a marathon guide, and he’s right. Instead, he’s loaning himself out as a thoughtful, veteran, and funny training partner. You couldn’t find a better one as you get ready for your next 26.2-miler.”

    If you’re interested in reading Overthinking the Marathon in order to post something on your blog, do a review, or host an interview, please let me know and I’ll send you a digital edition, Kindle, epub (for iBooks, Nook, etc…), or PDF – just let me know what format works for you.

    The “official” release date is March 1st, in case you want to coordinate any activity with the publication of the book.

    I hope we can work together on this one. I’m an independent publisher, and I need all the assistance I can get to get the word out.

    Thanks for your help,
    Ray Charbonneau
    Arlington, MA
    Book info and more: