This just in: How to Bake a Perfect Life is a finalist for the RITA award this year!!
In 2010, I walked 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago. I have been thinking about it a lot, partly because my new book, The Garden of Happy Endings, is coming out in a few weeks, and it is deeply rooted in that long walk.
I am also thinking about it because some friends and I are mulling the logistics of walking the entire Camino, roughly 500 miles, in 2013.
Every time I think of it, I get a jolt of excitement and pleasure—but I told my beloved that I don’t really get why. The Camino was not my first –or even my tent–long walk. It’s kind of a habit. I’ve hiked over a hundred miles in the French Alps, and even as a child, I found pleasure in the Walk-A-Thons of the day, 20 miles in a day. So hard! So great! I always finished with a sweaty, exhausted sense of bliss.
The only other time I feel that tingling depth of bliss is in finishing a book and shipping it off . It’s something few people will ever experience. It’s so bizarrely hard, but also so seemingly easy.
Like long distance walking.
Writing and long distance walking are very much the same kind of activity. Day to day, nothing much seems to happen. You write a page or seven, you walk a mile or ten, one word, one foot in front of the other after the other after the other after the other, day after day after day. After awhile, you’ve piled up the pages of a novel, walked a hundred miles.
My partner runs. Runners are flashier creatures. It is far more dazzling to run a marathon than walk one, even walk a hundred miles. People gasp in amazement when they hear his running time to top of Pikes Peak. And it is an accomplishment, no doubt. It takes endless training, hard training.
But to walk a marathon, you have to train, too. The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is a marathon (26 miles) plus a half marathon the next day. To train for it, I walked ten miles each Saturday and Sunday, for a couple of months. It took a lot of time. Hours. Me and the road and my iPod and my Camelbak, walking and walking. One foot in front of the other. It’s not glamorous. It’s not anything, really—but it adds up to a lot.
Just like those pages. What often surprises me, even after writing so many novels, is how long it takes to write one. Not only over the course of a year, but over the course of a day or a week. Sitting in the chair, with the phone and the internet off, writing words. Hours and hours. Day after day after day, the pages slowly, slowly stacking up high. It’s not glamorous. I’m sitting here in yoga pants and a (cute-ish, I must admit) t-shirt and bare feet, my hair scraped back in a ponytail, my desk looking like an office supply store exploded.
Writing. Just writing. Word after word. Step after step.
And it is not only the daily life of a writer that is like a long, long walk—it’s a writing career. I’ve been so delighted by the constant flow of phoenix stories showing up lately—a writer who had all but given up selling her novel after ten years sells the book and shoots to the top of the lists; a has-been author reinventing herself and soars to the top of the critic’s list; writers who’ve been MIA making a huge splash in self-publishing….the list goes on. Writing careers are long—they can be very, very long. Robin Carr was an indifferently published category and historical romance writer who couldn’t sell a word for seven years. She thought it was over for her, but she kept writing anyway, a little series called The Virgin River series. Which, since they are New York Times bestsellers, you might have heard of.
She didn’t give up. She kept putting one word, and another, and another, on the page.
Walking twenty miles in a day or 500 over the course of month takes a single virtue: a gritty persistence. The same is true of writing—writing books, and a writing career. Stick with it. Wherever you are in the book, word by word, it will be finished. Wherever you are in your career, word by word, day by day, dogged persistence will see to it that you have all the chances you need. I promise.
Giveaway! In honor of the publication of The Garden of Happy Endings, I’m giving away an Advance Reading Copy of the book. Just reply in the comments section and I’ll randomly choose one name tomorrow morning.
Do you have a tale of persistence to share? A marathon of writing (or walking) to tell us about? A phoenix story? Remember: we are all encouraged by tales of triumph or reward or just the grit of walking one more step…