Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pain, Perseverance, and Persistence.

First of all, let me say if what I'm about to say makes little sense, I'll blame it on the fact that I've just come off three long days of a cheerleading competition with my daughter and her cheer team. I'm a little punch-drunk, ready for bed, and yet so incredibly proud of not only my daughter but of every single cheerleader who stepped out onto the floor and of the support networks. The effort they all went to was mammoth. Not only was there routines to learn, stunts to master, hair and make-up to do--multiple times in some cases, there were costume changes, supporting other teammates, and just the general stress of competing. Added to that, there were some of the competitors who also coached teams. Some of them were sporting injuries which would make people with less grit pack up and go home, and yet they hit the floor with a smile at the ready and a spring in their step. It was, in a word, inspirational. The biggest lesson from the day is that pain, perseverance and persistence pay off. It might not happen immediately, or even in a big way, but it happens.

My daughters team consists largely of girls new to the world of competitive cheerleading (my daughter included). This weekend is only the second competition many of them have been in and the first was just a week ago. Despite this, they did really well. Maybe they didn't trophies in every event they competed in, but that's not what matters. What matters is the three P's. And in that respect, all of the teams who competed did well. Why? Because they did what so many others don't. They were there. They stuck it out. They gave it their all. I have no doubt many of the guys and girls were nervous, but they got out on to the floor and did what they could. If they were injured and in pain, they put on their brave faces and did what they had to do to the best of their ability.

What's this got to do with writing and publishing you ask? I'm glad you asked because it let's me get to my point. Writing and publishing a novel may not be as athletic as cheerleading (okay, so there's no maybe about it - it's definitely not as athletic), but it comes down to the same important P's that are the title of this post.

Pain: 
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway
This quote is one I love about writing because it's so evocative. But there's a better one for explaining the pain of crafting a book:

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy, and that hard.” ― Neil Gaiman

Because it's so right. For a writer there will never be anything easier than writing a book, and there'll never be anything harder. The pain is different for each writer. It might be the crippling agony of self-doubt, the dull ache of writer's block, or the stabbing, heart-wrenching agony of the words themselves. Whatever it is, there will be things that make the writer want to stop to call it a day and run away. But the best ones, the ones who find success, don't run. They grit their teeth and smile at the judges through the pain. 

Perseverance: 

Writing a book isn't enough. Not if you truly want the best work you can have out in the world. Editing is hard. Good editing is even harder. Re-reading the same words for the fifteenth time trying to work out whether you can squeeze in a little more emotion, or strangle out the passive voice. Agonizing over every choice of word, is there a stronger one or a simpler one that can be used to make the story clearer/better/cleaner? It takes time to do it right. It takes growth to really do it right. I was once a newbie author who hated the idea of reading my words over and over. The story was out, why did it need to be read a hundred times more. I look back at myself then and laugh. 

As I said in this post I am an editing convert now. The red pen brings me an odd sense of twisted joy. Beta concerns and questions give me joy. Every one is a plot hole, a misused word, a spelling mistake, or a simple error less that will be in the book. Each one is a stronger story, a better book. Now, I probably edit too much. If I could go back and go through my debut novel again now, I'd probably change something in every paragraph. Not because it's bad, but because I now know how to do it better. Just like the cheerleaders getting better with each performance, learning with each lesson, I have grown. I've evolved and will hopefully continue to improve for as long as I write. I don't want to reach a place where I feel like I have nothing more left to learn. I will persevere where others might stumble and falter. 


Persistence: 
If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Persistence is the key to cheerleaders sticking routines. Doing it once is not enough to gain perfection. Doing it over and over is how you refine skills and get better. It's what drives success. It's the same in the author world. If one book isn't a huge success, write the next one, and the one after that. Keep writing, keep polishing and keep publishing. One day, if the product is good and you persist enough, success will come. Even though I'm still waiting on the other side of the door, I believe in this more than I believe in anything else. A good product will eventually find a place. It might not be huge, it might not launch into the stratosphere but it will find it's place.   

What's the take-away from this? In cheerleading comps, just like in publishing and life in general, not everyone can get first but that's okay. So long as you've put on the smile, gone out onto the mat, and brought absolutely everything you can, you've succeeded. Win, lose, or draw, there is nothing more the world can ask of you. That's what I've taken from the competition and the one thing I hope my daughter will understand and carry through her life.  

Selfie with my little cheerleader (in the literal and figurative sense)

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