Perhaps it’s just the baggage that comes with middle-of-the-night notemaking into the tape recorder. Maybe it’s just part of the process of being equally in love with all one’s idea-children—even if they don’t really deserve it. Maybe it’s just the forgiving willingness to let an idea be what it is (for now), and sort out its merits later. But I seem to be facing it a lot lately:

The moment of not-so-fast, there, Young Skywalker. The Moment of Whoa.

Being a writer staring down the last third of a book…this must be how a marathoner feels two-thirds of the way through the run. The biggest shot of adrenaline is past, one’s strength has been tested, the race’s realities are making themselves abundantly clear, and the Finish Line is nowhere in sight. You congratulate yourself on how far you’ve gotten, but damn. There’s a whole third of the effort yet to go.

You’re still on the road. You’ve developed blisters. Your shoes come untied. You’ve run out of energy goo. The only opportunity for a bathroom break requires you to drop trou in front of thousands of people (more problematic for a woman than for a man, after all.) And guess what?—there’s a hill ahead.

You’ve told yourself that it is what it is; that you’re gonna go ahead and sprint up that hill. Nuh-uh. As you face that final third of the effort, you realize, painfully, something that you’ve known all along: that it’s gonna take a lot more work and considerably more pain than you’d wanted to believe was ahead.

This is the time, for a writer, when your own head isn’t listening to you…when those constant reminders-to-self to yourself keep moving by focusing on one challenge…they’re whispers in the wind. Not all that long ago, you had no ideas in your head, now you have too many, all jumping up and down demanding your attention, all claiming to be equally important, all of them distracting you from the purer expression of your own thoughts. The book, the plot, the characters have picked you up on their shoulders and are running away with you, against your will—and not necessarily in the direction you’ve wanted them to go. They’re moving away from the Finish Line, not toward it.  You can speak to them all the wisdom and caution you have in you. All you hear is the sound of crickets.

It’s a declining slope, with plenty of momentum. Or, as I wrote in a recent chapter, sledding downhill toward a cliff’s edge. No brakes, here. No reins. No way to stop, except that pitiful plea of “whoa.” Kinda fun. Kind of intriguing. And a whole hell of scary.

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