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Last April I ran the Tarheel Ten-miler endurance race for the first time. Most of the course was fine. I loved running through scenic Chapel Hill and ogling/coveting the super-expensive homes in the neighborhoods we ran through, but the race also includes the famous Laurel Hill Road which happens between miles 8-9 of the race. For approximately one mile, runners climb just over 200 vertical feet. The incline is so great that there is a separate split included in the final results. I had promised myself last year that I would run the entire Laurel Hill Road portion of the race, no matter what (barring my knees exploding, of course). I passed some runners who had slowed to a painful walk, some who were standing by the side of the road, hands on hips, and one runner who was doubled over and vomiting, and while my heart went out to that runner in particular, I kept on going. Towards the peak of the incline — the most unbearable point when your legs and lungs feel like they just can’t make it another step — someone had hung a bright blue banner with Edmund Hillary’s famous quote painted across it:

Hillary

I am a sucker for motivational words, and I always have been. I have been known to write out pep talks to myself, and I hang snippets of wisdom around my office, both at home and at work. I’m at work now, for instance, and stuck to my monitor is a post-it note with this gem:

Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.

Those words came by way of a student from last semester, who wrote about that quote — handed down to him from his dad — in an assignment modeled after the “This I Believe” archival oral history project featuring inspirational essays and stories. Those words are a legacy passed down from father to son and, pat and cliched they may sound, they are all that young man has left of him. They are catchy on their own; in the context of his story, they are truly transformative and empowering.

Lately, my running life has been informing/transforming my perspective on my writing life. Out on a run last week I received some news that was part-setback, part-huge-step-forward, and on my way home I turned the corner to the road back and found it blocked by massive tree-service trucks. I stopped for a minute, stupidly defeated by the blockage, and the guy in the orange vest who waved frantically at me to turn around, until I realized I just needed to take the other road — longer, and more hilly, but still a road that would take me home in the end. See? I told myself heartily while I chugged uphill. Roadblocks are just temporary. Sometimes the road to what you want is not as straight and easy as you think it should be. This weekend, when I was out on a training run for this year’s Tarheel ten-miler, the image of that banner flashed in my mind again. I was thinking about the crazy roller-coaster year (no, past three years)  it’s been for my writing career, and how where I am now in the journey feels like my Mile 8 — over, and over, and over again. I don’t want to be the runner doubled over by the side of the road, and I don’t want to be the one stopped, hands on hips, while I watch everyone else conquer their own personal mountains. I want to be the one who makes it all the way up the hill, and down the other side.

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My daughter made me this reading list. I don’t read enough MG, in her opinion, and she’s set out to right that wrong. 

I read a lot. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. I go through binge-reading spurts, where I can sometimes read a book every two or three days. I love the feeling of having a “book in the wings” — something waiting for me when I have a few free moments. I am addicted to the thrill of dipping my foot into another place, spending my time with new people, and being pulled along by a narrative. Back in college, I used to think that I couldn’t read while I was actively working on a piece of creative writing. Reading while writing filled me with a sense of self doubt so crippling that it stopped my creative process in its tracks. Thank goodness I grew out of that, or I’d either be spending my time a) not reading or b) not writing. Now I can happily do both.

My kids are big readers, too, but my daughter far surpasses my son in the sheer volume of books she can read in any given month. I don’t think a day goes by when she isn’t in the middle of some novel. She also knows quite a bit about what works and doesn’t work for her in a novel. She will peer over my shoulder when I am writing and ask me whether or not I really think it’s a good idea to start my book with that POV, rather than with the other main character’s, or if I’m planning on writing about x, y, or z (she was the first person who had to suffer patiently through a long and rambling account of what my next book will be about). If I am busy I will sometimes brush off her advice in the moment but then it comes to me later. Was I planning on writing about x? Why not? Should I start from that POV, or would it be better to start another way?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how so much of the writing process is not — and shouldn’t be — a solitary pursuit. The actual writing part is, of course. But there is so much behind-the-scenes work that goes into writing that is far from being solitary. Reading, for example, a critical part of writing, is more fun when you get to share a book with someone else. Each time a person raises a question (or two, or even a dozen) about something written (either by me or someone else), I can feel my brain flickering, making sense of what they have said. I get the chance to see what I’ve written from another perspective. Sometimes what I see is difficult, and painful; other times it’s enlightening. Sharing what I’ve written is always scary, but I also know it’s an important part of the letting go process that gives a writer the perspective they need to move forward.