I’d like to talk about Mile 89. I guarantee you’re familiar with this phenomenon, but since you may not have called it by this name, I’ll explain.
I ride bikes with a woman who’s straight outta Long Island. She’s brassy, cocky, funny, genuine, and she doesn’t take any sheet from anybody. We taught school together for years, but our friendship busted the bounds of colleagues early on. One of our things every October is to ride this bike trek at the beach. We have, for various reasons, missed it on occasion. Still, we love it, and we keep going back.
The first year we registered, there was a little ol’ weather pattern called Hurricane Sandy barreling up the East Coast. The ride was cut short, and the cyclists were urged to get off the island before high winds forced the closure of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. In a word, the Hurricane Ride was miserable. No matter which direction you were traveling, north, south, east, west, it was directly into a nasty headwind. There were times when we were less worried about moving forward because we were just trying to keep from being pushed over. Any words (of encouragement or caution) were blown away before the other person could even hear them.
To our own astonishment, we finished the 60 miles, and we made it off the island. The next year, convinced nothing could be as hateful as the Hurricane Ride, we registered for the century–one hundred miles. Two middle-aged cyclists riding a hundred miles…let the bad assery begin!
We were wrong, though. There was one thing worse than the Hurricane Ride, and that was Mile 89. Mile 89 is the black hole of the century ride–it goes on forever, and when you’re in it, there’s no hope of getting out the other side. Your legs are Jell-o, the preceding 88 miles have wrung every drop of sweat and energy from your raggedy body, and your will power has turned to will powder. This one damn mile encompasses the entire Hurricane Ride. The fact that there are only eleven more miles to go is irrelevant. There’s nothing special enough to motivate you to finish–not that cold beer, not the feeling of accomplishment, not your grandma’s funeral, a winning lottery ticket or the Pulitzer Prize. Nothing. The only way to survive is to be more stubborn than Mile 89.
I realize in life I’ve encountered Mile 89 over and over. We all have. My 89s have included death, divorce, my husband’s cancer diagnosis. As a special ed teacher in public school, I came up against multiple 89s. I even went through a Mile 89 to finish my book, which seems unlikely given that I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical in order to write it, a luxury many authors don’t get. Still, there were times when the process wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t see a way from an unfinished manuscript to a published book.
How’d I do it? I dug in and once again figured out how to be more stubborn than Mile 89. I wrote when it wasn’t fun and when the story wasn’t funny. I wrote and then rewrote. A promise to write just a few sentences often turned into a few paragraphs and sometimes into a few pages. Slowly, just like every other time I’ve found myself at this mile marker, I eventually got through it.
Lily Barlow, The Mystery of Jane Dough comes out on December 4th, and the second book in the series is underway. My advice for any writer who can’t seem to finish the book–when it feels like it’s easier to quit than it is to write, remember who you are and why you’re here, and get seriously stubborn. Channel your own bad assery. Then get that next word on the page.