The first marathon my husband Rob ran was the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in gorgeous San Diego, CA. The kids and I had a strategic plan to see him in a couple of different places on the course: at mile 6, mile 12, and mile 24. We had also placed assorted family and friends at other mile markers, to encourage him and give him fuel along the way. At mile 6, we cheered and held up our homemade signs, while Rob grinned and exchanged hearty high-fives with the kids.
At mile 12, as the kids shrieked, “Go Daddy!” the smile was a bit less enthusiastic, but still decidedly present. He reached out for the cola flavored power gels he had packed for this point in the race, and with a little nod to us, was gone. We arrived at our next viewing point well ahead of pace time, and settled in to watch for Daddy. We were near the end, and excited to see him approach victory.
As we waited, I got a phone call from my brother, who had just seen Rob at mile 20.Joe: “Uh, he didn’t look so good.” Me: “Did you ask him if he was okay?” Joe: “He mumbled something as he grabbed the banana out of my hand…I think it was, ‘this hurts.'”
I had heard stories about the wall, and I knew that Rob had probably hit it. Later, when I asked Rob to describe it, he said, “It’s where you’ve used up everything you’ve got, and the marathon asks you for more.” When he finally did come through mile 24, even our cute-as-the-day-is-long kiddos couldn’t coax a smile out of him. He paused for a moment on the side of the road with us, and I wondered if he would make it. He looked…tired. He did start again and crossed the finish line, but only after our then-3-yr-old Gracie said to him, “We’re Dixons. We NEVER give up!”
See the parallels yet? Publishing. Marathons. In the beginning, we are all smiles as we write our perfect stories and send them out. We have nervous butterflies, of course, but are ready to dole out the high-fives to our cheering section along the way. Then come the rejections. And, if you are doing it right, probably more rejections. We realize that our stories perhaps are not quite perfect. We revise, we write new stories. We keep plugging along, our smile a teensy bit dimmer, but still not detectable to the naked eye. We continue to fuel ourselves, going to writing conferences and critique groups. But most of all, we keep writing. Forward motion.
Then, there is the wall. The place where the only words we can eke out are, “This hurts.” Maybe it is even more rejections. Maybe it is getting positive feedback, but no sale. You feel like you are doing everything “right” and the doors are still not opening for you. You want to give up. You’re questioning whether or not you can do it. You’re…tired. Publishing has taken everything you’ve got and is asking for more. You pause for a moment on the side of the road.
Will you keep running?
I hit a wall on my journey to publication with Marathon Mouse. An editor that critiqued it at a conference told me that it was not marketable. That kids won’t want to read it because they don’t run marathons. That the story, frankly, was kind of boring. “I mean, all he does is run a marathon!” I definitely paused on the side of the road and wondered if I should keep pursuing this story. I wondered if maybe it was time for little Preston to hang up his running shoes and go nest permanently in my desk drawer.
But a runner knows that they will never, not in their 4-hour goal time, not in a million years, reach the finish line if they stop running. So don’t stop. Keep writing, keep submitting. Forward motion. And let the words of the ever-wise-3-year-olds in our midst ring out…
“We’re writers. We NEVER give up!”