How to Write Through the Hard Days: Be Like Bob

By Gwen Florio

Bob Hayes is a legend in the hard-core ultra-running community in Missoula, Montana, so it gives me the greatest pleasure to say that not once, but twice, I’ve finished ahead of him in a race.

I’m obligated to mention that Hayes is 89, and that in each of those races, I was told he was running more slowly than usual to accommodate a friend.

I barely qualify as a runner, being old and fat and—clearly—really, really slow. Still, the man has three decades on me. And while I save my juice for single a half-marathon a year, Hayes is out there running a race almost weekly. When he was 87, he ran the Bighorn 50k (that’s 31 miles, not some sissy 26.2-mile marathon), a rugged trail race in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains that starts at 7,650 feet of elevation and includes a six-mile-long climb. He did not come in last. Not even close to last. When he was 85, he ran a 50-miler, as he did each of several years before.

What does any of this have to do with writing?

A few years back, with two unpublished novels under my belt, I committed to writing one that would sell. I more or less bailed on my sweetie so that I could write at nights and on weekends. Took a novel-writing workshop that provided invaluable critiques. Hired a freelance editor to help me clean the sucker up. Oh, and I signed up with a “Back of the Pack” group to train for a marathon. I’d loved running when I was younger, and I hated thinking I was incapable of ever doing it again—just as I was sick of fearing I’d never publish a novel.

The training, even at my excruciatingly slow pace, damn near killed me. I ate Advil like candy. And the writing. Do you have any idea how beautiful Montana is? I looked at that beauty through the window of my writing room, boo-hooed as the sweetie and the dog took off for yet another outdoors adventure, and kept writing.

Pages piled up. Miles accumulated. The novel sold to a small publisher, who wanted the next one, too. I finished the marathon and was not last. (Bob ran that race too, and, it goes without saying, finished very far ahead of me.)

In some races, I’ll come up behind him. He runs a little bent over, elbows out to the side, not particularly pretty. He looks slow. “I can catch him,” I’ll think. Until we come to a hill, where I slack off, but Bob doesn’t. He just keeps going, one steady step after another. Just the way I’ve learned to keep writing, a thousand words a day, damn the hills of doubt and sloth. Those words might not be pretty, but they’re on the page, ready for editing.

A couple of journalism professors at the University of Montana are making a movie about Bob called “The Hard Way”—because doing things the hard way is how he stays sharp and fit. They sold T-shirts as part of a fundraiser. The shirts say “Be Like Bob.” I wear mine sometimes when I write, especially on the hard days.

One step after another. One word after another.

I used to think writing would get easier. Now I’m working on Book Five, and some days it feels as though I’m dragging each word out of my … ear. The only thing that makes it easier? Knowing that the hard way is what gets the job done.

Gwen Florio is a veteran journalist whose first novel, Montana, won a High Plains Book Award and Pinckley Prize for crime fiction, and was a finalist for an International Thriller Award, Shamus Award and Silver Falchion Award, all in the first novel category. Dakota was published in 2014 and her third novel, Disgraced, comes out in March 2016.

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