The average person walks at a rate of three miles an hour. But none of us is the average person. The time we take to walk from A to B varies with our general fitness, the length of our stride and our eagerness to reach our destination. The contours of the land, the smoothness of the path and even the weather also impact on our journey times. Diligent planners will take these factors into account when embarking on a country walk, but even pantsers can make judicious use of the three-miles-an-hour rule in knowing we can’t cover in a day a distance that would take the average person a week.
The parallel between birthing a baby and birthing a book can be something of a cliché, but both are creative acts of enormous personal significance requiring intensive nurturing to survive. Writing milestones might be less concrete than the steppingstones of child development or the waymarkers on country walks, but they still exist. When we first pick up our pens or rattle at our keyboards with the intention of producing something worthy of publication, we have a sense, however vague or inaccurate, of how far we have to travel and how long this might take.
I’ve come to the conclusion that each writer’s course is different and there’s little to be gained from comparing our own to other people’s. Not only do we bring with us different skills and competencies, we’re crossing different terrain in search of different goals. Nevertheless, we can still make use of milestones, if we remember that they don’t just mark the distance to where we’re going, but show us how far we’ve come. We can’t control the future, but we can celebrate our achievements along the way. So when you reach your next writing milestone, take pause and admire the view.
I originally wrote this piece a few months ago for somewhere else (and I wonder if you can tell it’s not my usual blogging voice), but I decided it might serve as a companion for my guest post “From Raw to Ready”, about finding your own writing path, over at the Carrot Ranch. It also fits with the latest flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story about a rock in the road.
As fiction writers, we can crank up the tension by placing metaphorical rocks in our characters’ paths, forcing them to find another route. Memoir can also be structured this way, and real-life stories of conquering adversity are popular, although not so much with me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve made the protagonist of my forthcoming second novel, Underneath, compound his problems through his strategies to overcome them. I’ll be revealing the cover very soon but, in the meantime, here’s the 99-word version of the story:
Childhood taught me home was an illusion but, twenty years on, I was living the dream. A regular job, my own house and a fabulous woman to share it with, I could’ve cruised like that for evermore. Until Liesel changes her mind about children, decides she wants a family with or without me. I can’t be a father, but I can’t let her go.
What do you do when a rock blocks the road ahead? Blast it with dynamite, scramble over it or tunnel underneath? Luckily my house has a cellar … with three strong bolts across the door.