If you’ll notice the tumbleweeds around these parts, that’s because I’ve spent the last few weeks immersed in The Jimmy Project, my alternate history superhero story about a boy and his feelings. And saving the U.S of A., I guess.

I finished The Jimmy Project last weekend, and now I’m in a bit of the afterglow that accompanies the end of a first draft. Leaning back and knowing you’re done with that challenging draft is one of the most rewarding things you can imagine. It’s not just that you had an idea, because ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s that you took that one idea persevered when you worried that it might be a bad one. That you kept pushing even when it seemed foolish to do it. And somewhere along the line, you wrote a book. Oops.

While Jimmy was the easiest first draft I’ve written as of yet (probably because it was 80k words as opposed to 112k or 175k, but you know), completing a first draft feels akin to running a marathon — and I know, because I’ve done both of those things.

It’s a bit hard to describe, this process. It’s like showing up for race day again and again, only you don’t have the benefit of the race day adrenaline — although something like it tends to show up in that final stretch, when you’re writing like a high Don Draper, cranking out somewhere in the neighborhood of 8k words a day. Instead of the pavement under your feet there’s only the keyboard, clicking inexorably toward that finish line over the course of a couple of months. Instead of the crowds, you have an extremely patient spouse and a couple of friends willing to listen to your rambling, and the constant stream of ideas is like watching someone’s mind come unspooled. The cramps and the fatigue are the writer’s block and the times when you’re staring at the screen wishing to all hell that it would fill itself full of words independently of your own hands.

And the training doesn’t come in the form of weekly mileage, or even weekly wordage, since every time you sit down at the desk is its own race. The training comes in the form of your life. The experiences you collect like stamps are the early mornings in the cold, and the observations you write down on the notepad inside of your head are the stretches and the runner’s diet. The hours and the minutes that you can’t stop thinking about the tale, the characters, the twists, the turns, the plot holes, are obsessive footsteps, and all of them are building you up for the next race day.

I guess that’s kind of what finishing a book is like. And the funny/sad part is, that’s just the first draft. Me and Jimmy are going to put a lot more miles down together. He’s got some issues I know that I need to fix, but one thing I’ve learned recently (from both writing and running) is that you need some time to step away while you heal. And when you’re ready to find that stride again, your old running partner will be right there waiting for you.

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