I’ve been a little bit proud and a lot bit celebratory this week as I approach my two-year writing anniversary on October 16th. This is, of course, not marking the moment when I first began writing, but it is the day when I committed to publishing a piece of new writing at least once each week.
My brand new husband and I had moved halfway across the country only a couple of weeks earlier. We didn’t have internet in our home yet, so I went to a nearby Panera, took a deep breath, and created my “author page” on Facebook. This felt like a gigantic leap for me (even though it really is a small step for mankind, given that literally anybody can create their own author page on social media).
Next, I decided to publish on my blog at least once each week. This should be no problem, given that my new job title since having moved was “stay-at-home writer.” HELLO, DREAM LIFE. IT’S INCREDIBLY NICE TO MEET YOU. I remember feeling excited, motivated, and hopeful. I had no idea what would come of this committed relationship with writing, but the possibilities were so thrilling to me.
I published a piece that first week. I published a piece that second week. (We’re really on a roll now!) And then . . . I took three weeks off. Apparently. I don’t remember this, but when I look at my blog’s archives, it’s radio silence. In fact, what I’ve just discovered today is that my lived commitment to writing didn’t actually begin until almost four months after the initial commitment I made from a booth at Panera. I wrote intermittently within those four months, but nothing that even resembled once weekly.
This is frustrating and disheartening and I want to kick myself in the shins a little bit for being so thoughtless with my commitment. But here’s the thing: The most important part of the story is not that I failed to write weekly for four months—let alone the two years it took me to even write monthly before that. What’s important is that I’ve stayed in the race.
Over the summer, my husband’s company took us to watch an Indy car race. This was a wildly new experience for me, having rarely ever watched a race on television, let alone been to one. I was sensory overloaded.
Early on in the race, there was a clear leader. The rest of the pack was not far behind—except for one car. Several seconds after the horde of cars whizzed past us, one lonely car came along, winding the curves with intention. To be honest, my first thought was, Oh, dear heavens, why even try!? He’s so far behind every car that he doesn’t have a shot.
Despite my weak hope, what most impressed me about this driver is that he very sincerely continued trying. He didn’t slow down to make things easier on himself, even though he didn’t seem to have a chance at finishing above last place. He raced his way through the course, alone and about to be lapped by the leader.
At one point, there was a multi-car crash. (No one was injured, you can exhale.) This means that a yellow flag was waved, signaling to the drivers that they should follow the pace car, all of them making slow laps in their respective positions until the crash is cleaned up and the full-speed race could continue.
In short, this means that the driver in the last position gained some ground. He was still last, but was no longer multiple seconds behind; instead, he was now directly behind the car in front of him. When the race restarted, he would have a chance to pass other cars and finish strong. Hope returned.
While most people probably left that race thinking about the winner, the race times, or the crashes, I left thinking about the guy in last place who was never out of the race, no matter how dismal his chances looked.
He did not win, but I know that he did finish. He didn’t bow out when things got tough or he grew weary. He was even given the yellow flag opportunity to catch up to his opponents, which I imagine offered him a much-needed morale boost. At the end of the day, however, it’s clear that his desire to finish was even greater than his desire to win. If we only attempt something in order to win, we’ll be quicker to give up when our chances look grim.
Did I write all the time, starting the minute I committed to write? No. It took two years of a little bit of writing before I made a recommitment at that Panera, and then it took another four months after that. I haven’t met my commitment perfectly, but I’ve stayed in the race. I returned to my computer, even if it had been two weeks or two months between publishing a piece. I care more about staying in the race, and oh sweet goodness the “race” can be so hard.
Our yellow flags come every so often, when we get a burst of energy or a genius idea and feel like we’re caught up to our own expectations. Feeling caught up, though, may not be the norm. Stay in it anyway. Keep doing the work, even if you do it slow or imperfectly. Just keep moving, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. If we bow out of the race, the yellow flags of creative genius or inspiration won’t even matter. We’ll end up on the sidelines, watching other people follow their dreams (which will look a lot like other people following our dreams).
These words are for me, just as much as they are for you. When I gravitate towards feeling shame at what my work as a writer has looked like, I can remember that I’m still in the race—and that is what matters most. Whatever you’re committing yourself to—work, weight loss, an art—don’t turn off the engine just because the race isn’t going as you’d like it to. You’re either in it or you’re watching it; let’s stay in it, okay?