When I first started running more than 20 years ago, I was slow and couldn’t last for more than 5 or 10 minutes without taking walk breaks. I more or less kept at the same pattern (and same trail) day after day, not expecting much of myself. I didn’t feel like a runner, but I had the strange idea I should try anyway.
One day I completed the little trail loop without stopping to walk. It crossed my mind: What if I tried going around a second time? I did, without needing to walk. I felt a bit more like a runner that day.
I reflect on that moment often, because of the feeling of genuine surprise. It’s a reminder that we don’t always know what we’re capable of until we ask it of ourselves—or have no choice.
For some, this is what the spirit of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is all about. What can I accomplish if I push myself? What could I do if I put my mind to it? It’s such a human impulse as to be a cliche, yet when we break through a barrier that we thought impossible or beyond our capability, the world and its challenges look very different on the other side.
Last year, I took on one of the most significant writing projects of my career, which required that I produce roughly 120,000 words in three months. I agreed to do it before I really thought through the math of what I needed to accomplish: 10,000 polished words per week on top of my usual work load. But I did it, on deadline, and no writing project has since felt the same. I’m trained differently now—I am trained to go around the loop twice without stopping—and in the end it really wasn’t that bad. [Read more…]