When I was in the last half mile of the marathon where I set my personal record, my run coach joined me for the home stretch. I was tired, I was hurting, and I just wanted this to be over. I’d gone through the gamut of emotions up until that point, and I didn’t know if I had anything left in the tank to take me home.
But my coach, having run many, many races in her own right — including an Ironman — knew exactly what I was feeling at that moment. And she knew that a few encouraging words would mean the difference between me giving up right then and there and me digging deep and finding that last bit of something to get me over the finish line.
I’ll never forget what she said to me.
“Look at all those people on the sidelines. If this were easy, they’d be doing it too. But they’re not. Because it’s not easy. But you’re going to do this. You’re going to finish.”
I’m not sure I really believed her at the time — your brain does very strange things to you at the end of a marathon — but I internalized her words all the same and used it as fuel to take me to the finish.
I thought about her the other day, as I was almost in tears over a particularly rough patch I’ve been going through in the revision process. A pesky plot dilemma reared its ugly head, and not only did a solution stump me, but in the process of trying to find a solution, I uncovered another plot dilemma — and ended up having to cut a scene I really, really loved. Yes, it happend. I had to kill a darling. And it was brutal. Beyond brutal.
I have some friends who tell me that they actually preferred the revision process to writing the first draft, because they got to see their story transform before their very eyes and improve each time they sat down to work on it. That may be true and there’s no arguing that the results are very gratifying, but I’d be lying if I said that I’ve enjoyed the revision process so far. I haven’t. In all honesty, it’s felt very much like taking a sledgehammer to my head again and again. And then stabbing my chest with an ice pick, just for good measure.
I’m two weeks in and it’s been torture every step of the way. But I know it’ll be worth it, and I know I’ll be happy I did it. I think about what my coach said. “If this were easy, they’d be doing it too.”
The fact is, only 1 in every 200 people ever finish a marathon. And I bet the statistics aren’t that much better for people who finish a novel. I’m doing something that isn’t done very often, and I forget that sometimes. This isn’t meant to be easy. Not that I had expected it to be, but it’s even harder than I thought.
But still, I’m keeping at it. When the butterfly bursts out of its cocoon, the ugly caterpillar will be a distant memory, as will the grueling process it took to transform it. That’s what I have to focus on.