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Writing: marathons vs. sprints

Writing a novel is a marathon. It takes months, if not years. You have to be in it for the long haul.

You have to train for a marathon. If you want to run a marathon you have to gradually build up to it with shorter runs at first. Gradually, inexorably, you find the skill and endurance to persevere. To keep going.

You have to train for a novel. You have to write, and write, and edit, and rewrite. The long form of storytelling will ruin and exhaust a novice. You’ve got to build up to it.

Too many marathons will ruin you. Your body will fall apart. Joints and bones will give up after repetitive pounding against concrete. You can’t run a marathon all the time. But you don’t have to stop running.

You can sprint.

There is freedom in the sprint – the freedom of laying it all on the line in short bursts. No time for boredom. No time to think of giving up. Just go.

Novelists need to sprint sometimes too. Write a short story. Write a screenplay (which, in comparison to a novel, is a pretty short endeavor). Give yourself time to recover and do something that is joyously brief.

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Make your characters interesting; you’ll be with them for a while

Writing a novel is sometimes tedious, so it helps to have your characters become the most interesting people you know.

I’m going through the next-to-last editing phase of my book and it’s tough. It’s hard to find the focus to write after dealing with all the varied difficulties of life like work, friends, bills, and laundry (yes laundry, it’s easy to forget about it).

Then there’s the writer’s worse enemy: doubt. Doubt that all this effort is even worth anything. It’s easy to start questioning what you’re doing when you sit down and start thinking you’ve got more pressing matters to tend to. That doubt can kill all your creativity.

BUT, none of that matters if the world you are creating is a place you want to spend time in, and that place is filled with the most interesting people you can imagine. In those trying and tedious times spent at the desk, those characters become the best kinds of friends, and guides to fantastical adventures.

Entrepreneurs: Keep Asking

For the last few years I’ve done a lot of consultation work with more startups than I even care to keep track of. More recently, I’ve been working in business development and product management roles and helping company founders and CEOs move their business to the next level via technology and good strategy. As you probably know, most startups fail. Companies go under for many reasons, but one thing I’ve seen consistently in those that do fail is this: they stop questioning what they’re doing.

Now, the traditional American business advice you’ll hear from many says, “Have a go get ’em attitude! Never look back! Pick a path and don’t stray from it! Confidence is the number one thing!” That’s all bullshit. If you want to succeed, especially in the fast-moving tech business, you have to constantly question what you’re doing and where you fit in your market. You have to ask the right questions, so you can find the right answers that will lead your company forward. If you’re not questioning what you’re doing, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing.

Years ago, I read a Forbes article targeted to company leaders called, The 10 Questions You Should Never Stop Asking. One of the key questions the author points out is:

Why does anyone need what we’re selling? All too often we fall into the trap that people want something because we like it. This is the road to perdition.

Far too often, company leaders fall into that trap and fail to create true value in what they’re offering. You have to be your toughest critic, and ask the tough, objective questions that expose weakness and lead to real solutions.