Last night, one of my middle school students posted the following on her Facebook page: Running, it’s hard to understand in the beginning that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the voice inside you that wants to quit.
Thanks to a quick internet search I discovered the quote originated with Dr. George Sheehan who played a large role in the “running boom” of the 1970s. As I read through the quote again, I was struck at how true it is for writers as well. In the very beginning we’re struck with a bug. We can’t write long enough or fast enough. We envision great rewards without realizing just how many challenges we’re going to have to face first. It doesn’t take us very long for us to start puffing and wondering what we were thinking. In that moment we glean our first insight into just how difficult writing actually is and before long we join every other writer in history who questioned their abilities, their motives, and their resolve.
In the years since I started writing I’ve heard and expressed many of the same frustrations with how difficult the road to being published is. I’ve complained about the agents, editors, and publishers who guard the gates to the world of my dreams. I’ve picked up books and after reading a few pages wonder how the author was chosen over my own when my work was clearly superior. But worse is when I open the cover of a title by one of my favorite authors and think, I’ll never be able to write like this so why do I even bother?
Having people whose work I admire can serve as inspiration, but taken too far it becomes a liability. I tend to forget there was nothing magical about what they did to reach the top. They were (and are) simply individuals with a dream who refused to take their eyes off of their personal victory line. They realized they weren’t competing with anyone but the voice in their head that said to give up, and they refused.
I’ve revised Dr. Sheehan’s words and placed them on my quote board as a daily reminder to myself:
It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other writers. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.
As any seasoned runner will tell you, that competition never changes. They have to face and overcome that same little voice every time they take their mark. It’s no different with writers. Just as with racing, there are many writers striving towards the same goal and just as with the race there will be those who excel and break records, those who lag behind at first but finish strong with their heads held high. And then there will be those who become so fixated on how inadequate they are when compared to others, they will barely make it to the first bend before giving up and walking off the track listening to that little voice crowing, “I told you so!”
The question I have to decide for myself is: Which one of the racers am I?
Which one are you?