Running, Writing, and Perseverance

As a kid, I never liked running, but in high school, I somehow found myself on the cross country team. My best friend had joined, and I wanted to keep in shape for wrestling, so I figured, “Why not?”

I was not just bad at cross country, I was terrible. Epicly terrible. I came in last place almost every race. Once, the coaches had to start another race before I’d finished the course. That’s right, I held up hundreds of athletes because I was the slowest runner ever. Picture a geriatric tortoise.

But I stuck with it. I did cross country for three years, and I finished every race.

Writing is a lot like cross country, at least for me. I plod along. I finish things. When it turns out that I’m not last, I celebrate. I’ve experienced runner’s high (once) and writing has something like it–that feeling of totally flowing, as if I’m saying exactly what I want to say.

Back in my cross country days, I was jogging along when someone on the sidelines pointed and laughed. (Literally.) I can’t blame them. Here I was, slogging through a race, and it’s entirely possibly this person was walking faster than me. Seriously, I was that slow. But I thought to myself, “At least I’m running.”

When things don’t go my way, when my stories get rejected, or it seems like I’ll never write anything very good, I think the same thing. I tell myself, “At least I’m writing,” because even last place is better than not being in the race at all.

I feel like I should say something here about perseverance. That’s common writing advice. “Just persevere.” It’s not so useful on its own. I mean, it’s kind of obvious. If you want to get good at a thing, you have to work hard at that thing.

But it’s easy to underestimate the power plodding along, of working at something continuously, frequently, and with the intent to get better. I think what perserverance really means is that if you keep plodding along, eventually you’ll get somewhere, even if it’s not quite where you expected to end up.