When I tell people that I like riding my bike in New York City, most of them give me a look that's more pity than admiration. When I tell them that my main complaint with riding in the area is that there aren't many good hills around, they are usually smile politely and scan the exits. On a recent trip to New Hampshire I got to climb some hills and do some research for my book, which is set there. During my search for facts and great climbs, the connection between writing and riding uphill became clear: the more you do them, the better you get at them.
When I started writing my books about Sarah Conrad two and a half years ago, it had been ten years since I had done any creative writing. I sat with my laptop and struggled to write the way that I did when I was twenty-one and fresh from thecreative writing program at my college. I knew that my emotional experiences were richer and my life experiences were much more diverse but I had lost the knack for writing creatively. It was pretty depressing. It felt about the same when I hit my first incline in New Hampshire. The rise didn't look too bad, but my lungs immediately started sending a distress signal. My thighs hit the panic button next.
After roughly one year of slogging through drafts and redrafts, my writing moved from "yuck" to "pretty good." Even then I found that I could only produce decent work with a lot of concentration, quiet and lots of re-writing. I particularly found it difficult to write in the third person, which was how I chose to narrate my first book, Quads, and parts of my second, Living Little Women. Gradually my writing improved. I'm not sure why, but it took a quantum leap forward during my maternity leave. My cycling improved during that time for a more obvious reason - I wasn't pregnant anymore.
One of the riders on the cycling team that my husband coaches asked him how to climb hills faster. My husband said, "I could tell you a whole bunch of physiological stuff, or you could just ride them a lot more." I think that my writing has been like that too. Some people are defined by their talent. If I'm successful in this, it will be because of a lot of hard work.