After the Race

I know. I’ve been completely MIA for – *pops out to check archive* – over a month and a half.

(I haven’t even been tweeting regularly. Seriously, how hard can 130 characters be?)

A part of me is ashamed of my bad blogging self. But a bigger part of me acknowledges that stepping away was completely necessary.

In the fall, I hit a major milestone: my first deal. This was a dream that was nineteen years in the making. (I would say twenty-four years in the making, but that would be cheating. Before the age of five, I technically didn’t know what a writer was.) I had every expectation – every inclination – to jump in the blogging pool and swim some victory laps…ahem, I mean, write inspirational, moving posts.

But I didn’t.

Instead, it really felt like finishing a race. Not a nineteen-year race, because that’s just silly. But a fourteen-month race, one that started July 2009 when I first had the idea for EAS and realized that this was the story that begged me to try to get it published. (Previously, I had only written for myself and writer workshops and maybe a small circle of trusted, book-loving friends.)

To be more specific, getting published is like one of those long distance races – the endurance events where your time almost doesn’t matter: only getting to the finish line is important.

Those of you who have been in races – both the running and the publishing kind – can see while the analogy comes in handy. You have this goal (to finish/get published), but if you’re like me, the big goal is was too overwhelming to approach head-on. You have to break it down into smaller goals. In other words, while you’re running and running, your vision tunnels to one thing – the next mile-marker, and a voice chants in your head, Come on. Keep going. If you can get to that sign post, the one where people are cheering, you’ll be a quarter of the way. There won’t that be awesome? (And then, if you’re me, you also promise yourself that you can stop, take a short break, and catch your breath. But maybe that’s just me. I’m a terrible runner. I have to lie to myself to trick my body into not stopping.)

These were my “mile-markers:”

Now, I don’t know how it is for other people, but for me, the last fourth of the race is always, always complete hell. My entire mind is reduced to the thud of my feet against the asphalt, the stitch in my side, my ragged breathing, and the effort of forcing one leg to move, then the next, and the next, and the next…

My eyes may be on the finish line, but despite my determination to get there, I am fully aware that my body – or in the case of this extended metaphor, my manuscript – may give out. For some races, it’s simply not your day to reach the finish line. You’ll have to stop, cut your losses, regroup, and start the race all over again on another day (usually with a completely different manuscript).

I don’t know any of these girls,
but I wish I could run like them.

I lucked out. With the hard work of the amazing Jo, my manuscript made it to the finish line…and took me along with it.

The finish line feeling is pretty cool: the people closest to you are patting your shoulder telling you what a good job you did, but your body still feels like you’re running. You kind of can’t believe that the race is actually over; your blood is thumping in your ears; and you have to take a few moments to get air back in your lungs and slow your breathing before you can actually talk to people.

I barely remember the day the deal happened; the strongest memory is a sense of disbelief and breathlessness.

But the really, really awesome feeling is a few minutes after the finish line/days after the deal: the endorphin hits you like a ton of deliriously happy bricks. You feel relief. You feel triumph! You made it! You accomplished your goal. You have so much energy – more than you expected to have after a long race. The world is at your feet, and nothing is your life is impossible. This is when most of the best celebrating happens.

(And I’m sorry, dear blog reader. I didn’t post anything in the celebratory phase besides the announcement post. A lot of the elation was spent dancing around in random places and treating myself to way more Pinkberry than is healthy.)

And then, something else happened. It happened to me the same way that it happens after finishing a race, but I haven’t heard about it happening to others. (Maybe I was in the unique position: I had the book deal, but since I didn’t need to start revising right away, I had some free time.) ((Or maybe I just haven’t been in the blogosphere for a while.))

After running a race, after the elated period, the endorphins wear off, and all you can think about is bed. Maybe you also debate about how necessary it is for you to take a shower and rinse off the race sweat before climbing under the covers, but bottom line: you need sleep, and you need it ASAP.

Actually, this is me. I think.
Probably before the age of 2.
(I don’t have many pics of myself sleeping – go figure. :-P)

Readers, a week or so after the book deal, I crashed – completely exhausted.

I have workaholic tendencies. (I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not – I hesitate to mention it now. I have a no complaining policy on this blog, and writing this comes pretty darn close.)

For a long time this summer, I didn’t even pay attention to to how much time I spent working. I took breaks only to visit the gym, or to take pictures of the bear, to watch SYTYCD, or to call my parents and tell them that I didn’t get eaten by the bear. Realizing something is wrong, I started to keep track of my hours in July, and I sincerely hope that it was the height of my unhealthy pace: I spent 10-14 hours a day working at my revising desk. I didn’t take weekends. I actually only took three days off that month, and two of them, I spend driving to and around town for supplies.

(This was the last fourth of the race, the difficult part.)

Anyway, after the deal, early in October, I was so worn-out that I actually told Jo that was going to take a month off, because I didn’t know when I would get another opportunity to take a break. I did, and it was enormously helpful.

But my body was greedy and wanted more rest. When I jumped right back into work early in November, I quickly got a virus. Which turned into a sinus infection, and I spent two solid weeks in bed. Feverish. Reduced to a diet of soup, Motrin, and as many movies and TV-via-internet shows as my computer would allow.

Now that I’ve recovered and have moved past the crashed stage, a completely new feeling has taken over. You know, like the day after the race – when you put Band-Aids on all your blisters, put up your running shoes, and start tackling all the errands and the homework you made an executive decision to ignore until you passed that finish line (or not). You still feel good – ahem, just a wee step down from giddy – about what you’ve accomplished, but the tunnel vision has disappeared. You have other things to do.

Let’s call it the Okay, now what? feeling.

Part of the answer is obvious. I was extraordinarily lucky: I have a two-book deal, which means I have one ms to revise and another to write (and then revise). That part is well underway. (Woot!) I’m confident that I can handle that.

Another part of the answer is just as obvious: after the past year, I can see that the work isn’t the problem. It’s the way I work. I can’t spend the rest of my life working at the pace I did in 2010. So, I’m trying to strike a healthy balance between working and living. (I was happy to see some awesome posts, where other industry peeps encourage others to do this: Veronica Roth, Molly O’Neill, and Meredith Barnes.)

Here’s where we get to the murky part.

I have finished the race. I have accomplished my dream – a dream, you remember, has been nineteen years in the making. I won’t lie. This dream has defined most of my life – at least the parts I had control over. I can be shockingly single-minded like that.

Even though I still feel incredibly lucky and blessed, the question I keep asking myself is “Okay, now what?”

I don’t have the answer.

At least, I don’t have a complete one. Not yet. But I do know this: dreams change and grow, same as people do. Yes, I have accomplished the dream of becoming a published writer. But the dreaming has not stopped. Now that goal has been reached, I’m uncovering a whole bunch of dreams that were less pressing. I’m starting to realize, Now that I am an author (*grins*), I have to discover what kind of writer I am…and what kind I want to become.

That’s no small feat. Especially when you’re only twenty-four and you’re just now beginning to understand who you are as a person – let alone what you have to offer as a writer.

I will be honest. It scares the heck out of me. But so did leaving New York, and querying, and going on submission.

It’s just another race, really. But this one is even longer. Maybe as long as a lifetime.

Wish me luck.

Because I have ever intention of taking all of you with me…in a blogging way, of course. 😛