Mile 25: Visualizing the Finish Line and vaya con dios (for now)

(Blogger‘s Note: This is the first in a three-part series, “vaya con dios for now” about my decision to put the blog aside for a time. It may be a week, a month or several. There’s no map to follow. I’ll continue reading the posts of my many friends and admiring your great work because you inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be glad to host guest posts while on sabbatical. Feel free to submit your idea any time along the way. ~ steve)

***

Not too many years ago, I was consumed with weight loss and running.

The short version of the story is that I woke up one day, stepped on the scales and weighed an unbelievable 248 pounds. And as my personality tends to do at certain points in life, I said, “That’s enough.”

It began with a strict diet, and a few weeks later I walked to the mailbox down the street. Next thing I knew I’d made it 3 miles in 30 minutes and the pounds melted away.

December 5, 2006 at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. I had no idea there was a photographer anywhere in sight and wouldn’t have cared anyway. This photo was taken at Mile 25 and all I cared about was rounding the corner to see the finish line.

A few months later, when I hit the 10-mile mark, a new goal emerged and I realized the elusive 26.2 marathon (with a LOT more training) was doable.

It’s the curse of an obsessive-compulsive-self-competitive personality. You choose to do something until it nearly kills you.

And even though a new goal was born out of the effort to lose weight, the first goal was achieved. Obsessive-compulsiveness took me from 248 to 165 in about nine months.

***

Now, it’s one thing to run 10 miles. It’s an entirely different thing to tackle the 26-mile marathon. It’s the equivalent of walking around the block and then thinking to one’s self: “I think I’ll climb Mt. Everest.”

My best estimate is that I trained just more than 6,000 miles in running three marathons over an 18-month period.

I read a lot of books about different ways to train, and one of the techniques I adopted was visualization.

When a runner has trained up to 10 miles, the 26 seems insurmountable, so she must learn to visualize herself crossing that finish line. If you can teach your mind to see it, you can do it because the mind and the soul can overcome that to which the body says “no.”

On every morning’s training run, my mind would actually see my feet crossing the finish line. I could see what I was wearing, think about how it would feel (in theory) and visualize my family and friends congratulating me at the end with a medal around my neck.

***

Over the course of a 26-mile race the mind has lots of time to think, and in my first marathon (the St. Jude Memphis Marathon) there was a point somewhere around mile 20 where my heart began to ask my body a lot of questions.

  • What in the world were you thinking?
  • What are you trying to prove, and to whom are you trying to prove it?
  • Don’t ever do this again.

It’s a good thing really. The questions a first-time marathoner has for himself around mile 20 are a good mental distraction at the point where the body experiences total depletion and continues on with heart when the body has nothing left.

So you just keep running.

Miles 20 to mile 25 of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon were an excruciating experience, but at 25 the pain went away and all I wanted to do was finish.

***

Nine months ago, I began writing a book, and the manuscript’s now about 75 percent complete. I think it’s a good work with some value in the marketplace. Things were going along well for a few months, and then I became distracted.

During the study of how to publish a book successfully, I came across this notion many have that an unknown author (that would be me) must have a successful social media platform to even have a chance of breaking through the publishing fog.

So I took a break from book writing and became a student of the platform.

And I found I loved the platform building as much, or more, than the book writing.

It’s a terrible thing to have an obsessive-compulsive-easily-distracted-move-on-to-the-next challenge type of personality. But that’s my problem, and hopefully not yours.

***

I love the blogosphere and everything about it. I truly do love it. Nothing thrills me more to see I’ve had a reader in a country I didn’t even know existed. It’s an honor to be read by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

But oh, the distraction of immediate self-gratification vs. the long-term project that awaits in an 8-inch thick folder in my office, and in the jump drive’s tiny confines.

The last few weeks of blogging have been great fun. Ideas for posts seem to come from everywhere I look. Readers seem to have enjoyed certain pieces, and my ego’s been bolstered.

But this could go on forever.

***

The first book in my Light series is at mile 25. For a time, the writing depleted me and I asked myself all kinds of questions. I wrote a good bit, but allowed myself (not without reward) to become blog distracted. It’s time to refocus and visualize crossing the finish line for Light Wins.

I can feel the final push. The finish line’s just a mile away.

(Next Post: Thanks for Letting Me Live Vicariously Through You.)

-30-

The Binge: 12 Lessons Learned

“The only book that shall ever be written is the one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure. When such a work has gestated within a man, it is almost certain that it will be written. The man who is thus charged with a message will not be turned back by any blase’ consideration. His book will be, to him, not only imperitave, it will be inevitable.” ~ A.W. Tozer from “God’s Pursuit of Man.”

Over the long weekend, I reverted to a style that has served me well from college to the present.

I was never good at composing research papers over extended periods of time, never embraced studying a bit each day, and really never have been good at doing a “little bit” of anything. For most of the things I do, I have to go “all-in.” It’s why I stay away from casinos.

I’m a binger.

It goes agains the conventional writing style that most experts will offer. Most say the best way to begin writing is just that, begin writing … write something each day, even if it’s just a few hundred words. That’s good advice for beginning writers, I’ll grant you. It creates a habit, and habits are good things for writers.

But if you’ve moved to a point where you’re more serious in your work, the notion of bits of pieces of writing daily may no longer work.

It’s become apparent that if my first book has any chance of being released by Thanksgiving – I must binge.

Last weekend, Friday 3am through Sunday noon was a 57 hour writing session with very few breaks. It was productive, resulting in nearly 10,000 words of decent copy.

When you write for three days straight, you inevitably learn some lessons. Here are 12 I learned:

  1. Without moving your cell phone’s switch to the “off” position, it will continue to ring.
  2. A.W. Tozer is magnificent.
  3. Periodic naps help.
  4. Grape juice keeps you going.
  5. One moment, you think what you’ve written is brilliant. On second read, it can sound really stupid.
  6. Sometimes, just sometimes, volume trumps quality.
  7. There’s no substitute for a good chair.
  8. The environment in which you write can make a huge difference.
  9. If you have a random thought, put it on paper immediately.
  10. Sometimes, it’s more important to write randomly, than chronologically.
  11. It’s ok to take a short Facebook break now and then, but just a short one.
  12. It’s going to take at least three more binges to get this thing done.

—30—

How to Write a Great Book: Lessons from Ezekiel

For transparency’s sake I should mention two things.

First, I have lived in the magazine and newspaper publishing industry for quite a few years, but have yet to enter the world of book publishing, which I hope to claim this summer. I am not yet, a book author.

Second, this valuable lesson was shared with me in my first visit with an agent a few weeks ago, and it’s working for me. It is not, however, an original idea.

I had an idea for a book, one that I thought was quite good. Because of the true stories and the nature of the book’s focus I, of course, thought I had a best-seller on the way. When the agent shared this story with me, over a two-hour conversation, it changed my thinking and created a focus that has helped the words almost write themselves.

The story comes from Ezekiel 37, and you may know it as the story of the “dry bones.”

The context surrounds God‘s disappointment with His beloved Israel, its fall and His commands to Ezekiel to restore it to its former greatness. We can divide the story of Chapter 37 into three distinct parts that any writer may apply to the process of completing a great manuscript.

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me,” prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ This says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.'”

Ezekiel knew full well that God wanted him to make this project fly. And his instruction, which was three-fold, applies to each of us as writers.

GATHER THE BONES:

Before we begin with anything, we must assemble a skeleton, a framework, a context that establishes a relational foundation for all that follows. To publish a great book, we must first break it down to the bones. We may have great things in mind, but we’re going to have to have something on which to hang them.

PUT THE FLESH ON THE BONES:

Now, let’s cover the bones in a relational way. Stories. That simple. How will what you write ring true with the reader so that he or she may say, “That’s me. I get that. I’ve been there, done that.” Watch the great public speakers who every so often through a presentation take a break to simply tell a story … and watch how the dynamics of the audience reaction changes. Because God created us to be relational, we love relationships and the understanding of relationships.

BREATHE LIFE INTO THE BONES:

Think of it in this way as it relates to the reader. So what does all this mean? What is the takeaway? What is the lesson here? What is it about this book that will cause the reader never, ever to look, or think about it the same way again?

Maybe like you, I always thought if I had a great story, or a great lesson, or some highly unusual circumstance, I could write it well enough to make a great book. I now realize I was wrong. Each element must come together, the bones, the flesh and the breath.

It makes sense to me, and I wanted to share it with those of you who share the same dream.

Observe.

Think.

Plan.

Write.

Pursue.

Execute – and be excellent.