I’ve been hiking many times with my husband and family and I love it. I’m a terrible athlete: I ducked and avoided the ball in softball, never managed to hit it in tennis, and can well recall my body screaming “Stop!” whenever I ran. I’m good at hiking, though. Miles disappear under my feet in the silence of the woods. The quiet is broken only by the regularity of my own breathing in time with my steps. Woods are good for both conversation or introspection, whichever mood strikes.
Most hikes are designed to take hikers over a mountain or three. After all, the views are better up there and the views are the carrots that take so many people up so many vertical miles. On occasion, the view at the top is so spectacular it takes your breath. You sit down, crack open your water, and feel glad to be alive. A lot more often, however, the view is only of a more distant peak. When that happens, there’s nothing to do but keep going if you want the spectacular. Hiking back down the mountain without reaching the true summit seems ridiculous, pointless, impossible, even.
Publishing is like that.
The first peak is finishing that novel, the one that 95% or whatever of people want to write but never do. You’ve done it. You’ve typed “The End.” Your word count is reasonable. Your concept is hooky. Your parents brag about you. Your spouse looks at you as if you were an eleven when you were only a ten before. Celebrate that view, but there’s another peak in sight.
The next one is finding an agent. I’ll be honest: this hike is twelve thousand miles long, or it seems like it. The trail rises and falls often, tiring you out and making you think about going home for dinner. Every time you decide to, though, there’s a little glimpse through the trees and someone you know waving at you from the top of that next peak.
A lot of hikers bite it during this part. Sometimes you have to write more than one book. Sometimes you have to write more than two. It’s a hell of a slog, but if you hang in there, learning and working, it’s achievable.
Even after that, there are plenty more peaks: getting a book deal, getting a second book deal, completing revisions to an editor’s satisfaction, meeting deadlines, and keeping away burn-out. Nobody ever reaches the end: there’s always another mountain in the distance.
I’ve learned, in both hiking and publishing, that good endurance is a must. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s the whole damn Appalachian Trail. Bring water and food. The only thing stopping you from reaching the spectacular is your determination and your feet. Take care of them.