Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bail Out or Keep Going?

If you’ve done any kind of endurance event—running, cycling, walking—you may be familiar with the concept of the SAG wagon.

It’s a car, sometimes a bus, also called the Sweeper. It rides along at the back of the race and picks up anyone who’s had to drop out due to fatigue, injury, or a shameful lack of intestinal fortitude.

Oh, and you can also get picked up if you’re still chugging along, but at the rate you’re going, you’ll finish long after sundown and even your mother has given up on you and wants to go home.

In the Tour de France, when you quit the race, they strip your number off almost as soon as you dismount your bike. You then climb into your team car, and that’s it. You’re done. On your team roster, next to your name, is written a single word: “Abandoned.”



What a horrible word.

I think there’s a point in writing every novel when you wonder if you should keep going or abandon. Maybe you’re tired of the story or you’ve got doubts about whether you’ll be able to finish it before the leap year after next. Whatever. There are lots of reasons to quit, and you can probably think of them all when you're staring uphill, panting and sweating.

Of course in writing, for better or worse, there is no SAG wagon gonna pick your sorry butt up if you bail out. And it’s probably fortunate that you can’t be DQ’d for going too slow because we’d probably all be sitting in the SAG wagon singing “99 bottles of beaujolais on the wall” right about now.

When I get that “I’m not gonna make it” feeling, though, there’s something lurking along the literary roadway, something that goads me on when I’m having a bad patch. I wish I could say it was inspiration, artistic drive, a passion for truth and beauty. But it's not.

What keeps me out of the SAG wagon is this: I simply hate not finishing something. HATE. IT. 

And I’d feel like an especially big loser for quitting when I was more than halfway done. So unless I’ve got three broken clavicles that keep me from typing or a raging case of flesh-eating bacteria, I’m going to finish if it kills me. 

So there. I guess shame is a pretty strong motivator for me. Or pride. However you want to look at it.

What about you? What gets you across the finish line when you feel like getting into the team car, going back home to your villa in Spain, and making excuses to the press all winter?