Say What You Mean

This is going to be another bike riding story.

A couple of weeks ago Andrew and I and a bunch of our friends participated in Ride Cincinnati, a 63 mile bike ride to raise money for breast cancer research.  This was the first year that I attempted the full 63 miles and I was nervous.

I hadn’t trained enough.

It was blisteringly hot.

And I knew the last several miles before the 31.5 mile turnaround were brutal hills.  I knew this because we drove the course a few weeks before.  I like to prepare mentally, and I don’t like surprises.

So there we are, 25 miles in and facing the Big Hill.

Andrew is faster than I am, but at that point we were still riding together.  I’m chugging up this mile-long hill in my lowest granny gear, keeping my eyes on my front tire.  Pedal.  Just pedal. From the top of the hill I hear Andrew shouting to me.

He says, “Come on, baby!”

What he meant was, “Come on, you can do it, you’re doing great!”

But what I heard was, “Come on, hurry up, you’re going too slow!”

Not the message I needed in that moment.

Here’s the thing.  It doesn’t matter what he meant.  It only matters what I heard.  And what I heard was, “You’re not doing well enough!”

In the interest of staying married, I talked to him about this at the turnaround (where they give you water and Gatorade and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the whole stinking world because you’re hot and famished and you smell like Satan’s armpit, but PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH!!!).  I told him that what he was saying to encourage me just wasn’t working for me, and could he please say something else.

In the interest of staying married, he agreed.

Herein lies the point of this blog post.

I know what I mean when I write.  I can picture the scene, and I know the motivation, and I can hear each word the characters are saying.

But you only know what I tell you.

And you can interpret it however you want.

So I might write a bit of dialog where a character tells a joke.  I might think it’s really funny.  You might not.  You might find it offensive or stupid or snarky and that might color your opinion of that character in a way I never intended.

I can’t control that.

All I can do is try my hardest to make sure that the words I write come out exactly the way I want them to.

After that, they’re yours.

I shout them down to you from the top of the hill, and hope you hear them the way I meant them.

So come on, baby, let’s get up this hill together.


This post contains a curse word

If you’ve found this post because you’re a kid who loved Horizon Alpha, fair warning to you.  This post contains a curse word.

Not a little one.  Not hell or crap.  It’s the big one.

My current publisher is family-friendly, so Horizon Alpha contains no swearing.  Do you know how hard it is to write a scene where a flying shuttle crashes into a jungle full of dinosaurs without anybody saying, “oh, sh*t, we’re crashing?”  or, “Dammit, we’re going down?”  It’s hard.  But I did it.  Because the youth of the world are sensitive souls and if we promise family-friendly, then by gosh, that’s what they’re getting.

So why am I cursing in this post?

Because it just has to be that way.  You’ll see.

A lot of my writing stories are also running or biking stories, because the same spirit of “just keep going” that works for sports also works for novel writing.

This is one of those stories.

So there’s this hill.

Not the hill from a couple of posts ago.  The “Watch the Front Tire” hill.

This one’s worse.

It’s on a loop around a municipal airport and it’s been the bane of my existence since my husband and I started biking seriously a couple of years ago.

I’ve never been able to make it.

It’s short.  It’s very steep.  There’s a curve at the bottom that cuts your momentum, so it’s just a solid push.  I usually make it about three quarters of the way up, then stop dead and hop off, angrily shoving my bike up the last little bit uttering other curse words that aren’t hell or crap.

I’ve had plenty of excuses, and they’ve been good ones.

But it’s been four years since chemo and almost a year since my last surgery, so as compelling as my excuses have been in recent years, they’re getting old.

Sunday was my day.

We had ridden about fifteen miles and the hill loomed up past the golf course.

Andrew rode in front of me and I geared all the way down at the bottom, because I’ve tried downshifing in the middle of this steep, short hill, and it’s gone very poorly.

I tried to get some speed up but my momentum was gone by the first quarter of the hill.

Here comes the curse word.  Kids, look away.

Andrew was at the top and saw me panicking.  He shouted down, “F*ck momentum, just dig!”

So I did.  I dug in and pushed.  And for the first time in four years, I made it to the top with my bum still on my bike instead of walking next to it.

Momentum is a big thing in writing novels.  It takes months or years of work, and sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is watching the word count steadily increase, plodding letter by letter toward the final goal.  If you get stuck and lose your momentum it’s hard to pick it back up.

And that’s kind of where I am right now.  I’ve been editing and rewriting like crazy, getting Horizon Alpha ready for publication and working on a thriller for my agent.  So I haven’t gotten to work on the Horizon sequel for weeks and weeks.

I’ve lost momentum.

But that happens.  Life gets in the way.  Sometimes things get too busy for writing time to be a priority, and sometimes other writing goals become temporarily more important.

You slow down.

You risk stopping, hopping angrily off your bike before you crash.

That’s the time for a curse word.

It’s time to shout, “F*ck momentum, just dig.”  Time to push harder and gut your way up the hill. You don’t have any speed behind you to get you started.  You just have to pedal like crazy no matter how bad your quads are burning, just push push push to the top.

When you get there, it’s worth the burn.

And the great thing about hills is that once you’re on top, the ride down is just coasting.  Your momentum is back and you don’t have to push anymore.

Until the next big hill.



Watch the Front Tire

Last November my husband and I moved into a new house.  We chose it partially because it’s less than a mile from our favorite bike path.  It’s been too cold to ride all winter but Cincinnati had a glorious weekend of sixty degrees, so today we rode.

The bike path starts in the park behind our house, but getting to the paved part requires a bit of road time, including one wicked steep hill.  It was scary enough going down, and I knew I’d never get up.  You can’t even get any speed going at the bottom…it’s just pedal and pump like hell.  Figured I’d try my best, then hop off and walk my bike the rest of the way up.

So I started.

And it wasn’t going well.

My husband was riding behind me because he likes to look at my butt.  I was about a third of the way up and losing momentum fast.  Ready to ditch the bike and hoof it.

From behind me he shouted, “Front tire!”

When you’re riding a big hill, the trick is not to look up.  The top of the hill looks forever away, and your brain gives up before your legs do.  You just can’t make it.

But if you look down at your front tire, all you see is the tire and the bit of road right under you, and it doesn’t matter how steep it is because it’s just the road passing under your bike, same as it is on the flat.

I looked at my front tire.

I made it up the hill.

And I thought about writing.

This is because I’m in the middle of fleshing out a new manuscript, and I think about writing all the time.

But it’s also because just looking at your front tire is an excellent bit of writing advice.

It’s so daunting to look up the hill.

Will I ever finish this manuscript?  Will it suck?  Will my agent like it?  Will it sell?  Will anyone else in the world feel like I feel about these characters?

It’s too much.  That hill is way too high.

But just look at your front tire.

Write this chapter.

Write the next one.


Pedal and push until the hill that looked so daunting from below is now behind you, not because you conquered the hill, but because you kept pedaling, eating up the road a few feet at a time.

And pretty soon you’ll be coasting down the other side.