A loved one reminded me that my foot race toward achieving “New York Times Best Seller” status is against myself alone. He helped remind me that getting distracted by other writers’ progressive achievements will only lead me away from my personal goals. Consider this illustrative vignette:
My favorite uncle, who now lives in a medically assisted living facility for Veterans, recently tried to visit my home. The operative word being: tried. He drove his wheelchair-accessible van out of the city, into the suburbs, to my new house. I previously lived in a row house that perched defiantly at the end of a 30 foot-long walkway. Obviously, my uncle wasn’t able to maneuver his wheelchair up the walkway and up the 9 steps into my city house. But with the new house with its open floor plan, we were hopeful the entryways would be wide and spacious enough to accommodate his portable ramp and wheelchair. Well, as it turned out, the entries were wide enough, but each area was too steep for the motorized chair to negotiate the ramp–up the four steps, over the threshold and into the house. We struggled for about 40 minutes but could not get him into the house. As he adjusted himself back into the van, I packed away the too short portable ramp.
Afterwards, I stood outside the van at the drivers’ side next to him. I felt defeated for him. He had exerted a lot of effort and energy to visit me and I didn’t know how to fix the situation. We had attempted every combination of entryways, putting the ramp in different places, not to mention enduring the 90-degree heat and humidity–, all for naught. I struggled with my expansive vocabulary for comforting words to give him; instead, he effortlessly told me how proud he was of me. He recited a number of my accomplishments and made me feel like I’d just won the Life’s Achievement Award.
I’m always amazed to hear people who love me rattle off all the things about my career that I either forgot about or take for granted. As you know, I’m not producing anywhere near the copy I need to regarding my current work of fiction. The weight of my self-worth has recently become directly linked to my productivity levels and the amount of chapters I write. And because I’m not writing enough or because I haven’t finished my book yet, blah blah blah–, I feel like I’m teetering on the failure side of life. I said as much to my uncle.
My uncle stared into the distance and I wondered if I had said something to hurt or offend him. He simply cleared his throat and then pointed to a light post about 300 meters away. He told me about a time when he was in the Air Force out running. There was another runner ahead of him he said,–about the distance from where we stood to the lamppost on my street. He said he decided to challenge himself to catch up to and pass the fellow runner. My uncle certainly had the talent and energy to overtake the runner—and he easily got out in front of the man. But, Uncle said, with his focused efforts to pass him, he later realized he had missed his own turn. He went nearly a mile out of his way before getting over his competitive spurt. So what’s the moral of the story? There are several writing lessons here.
- Don’t focus on those who are ahead of you. They have their own races to run [stories to write] and you have yours. The competition–, the race–, is with yourself and not based upon the others. The other writers are NOT your competitors. It’s all about your goals, your talent and your chosen path. Support them. Don’t compete with them.
- Don’t miss your turn. You will have to double back and waste time. Figure out your voice, your genre and your definition of success. As they say in the vernacular, “Do you!”
- Don’t give up. Get weary, yes, but don’t give up. If you’re not weary and near fainting when you write, you’re not working hard enough. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Never never never never never never never give up.” Despite the work, despite the doubt, the insecurities, the rejections, the critics, and even the occasional bad writing–, keep going! Follow your path and your passion. You’ll cross that finish line before you know it.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re likely better than you think you are. Self-effacing is easy to do but try not to give into it. As you may know, your thoughts and spoken words have a way of becoming your reality.
Finally, don’t forget about the elderly. This distinguished group of people have wisdom and perspective beyond anything we may know right now.