“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”
They just showed him coming down from the summit, where he passed the bodies of 200 other climbers who died on the mountain. Now he’s being helped down to base camp by his teammates; he can no longer use his prosthetic legs because his stumps are too frostbitten and raw from the summit climb. One member of the team is actually carrying Mark down the mountain on his back.
I’m watching this and I’m thinking two things:
- I’m perfectly happy never climbing Mount Everest.
- Why the hell should I ever be afraid of writing?
Because truth is, sometimes I get really afraid of writing. What am I afraid of exactly? Meh. I don’t know. Lots of things. Failure. Rejection. Success. You know. That stuff.
But come on. It’s just writing. It’s not climbing Mount Everest.
Some of you will say, “Yeah, but writing a novel sure feels like climbing a big, scary mountain.”
OK, fine. But you can still feel your feet, right? And my guess is you aren’t suffering altitude blindness either.
Watching this show gave my perspective a good swift kick in the pants.
It’s just writing.
When I was a kid, my family went camping. A lot. I’m not talking KOA-comfort, complete-with-showers camping, either. I’m talking the rugged, dirty, go-behind-a-tree type here. And on these trips, we always took our fishing poles.
Mine was black with white stripes around the pole, and a smudgy white button that pinged when pressed. I liked to poke at water bugs and crawdads at the shore with the tip.
My dad and brother were hard core fishermen, getting up before the sun to wet a line. “The fish are whistling,” dad would proclaim in those dark hours when mom and I were still curled in our sleeping bags.
Mom and I did our share, of course; but we were more apt to get sucked into our summer reading and forget to mind our bobbers. Lost a lot of salmon eggs from my hook that way.
Most nights we’d eat fresh trout around the campfire. Some nights, though, we’d have to rely on canned stew. The stew wasn’t as good as the trout, but we didn’t mind. We knew we’d be back out there on the lake the next day, and we trusted the fish would be biting.
So, what does this have to do with writing?
You write a story. You revise it. You show it to a couple of trusted writing friends. You get feedback and revise again. You decide it’s ready. You send it out.
You get rejected.
You send it out again.
You get rejected.
You send it out again.
You get a nibble: a nice rejection. “We like your writing, but this story doesn’t fit our needs right now. Please submit to us again.”
You send it out again and get rejected.
It feels like your story will never get picked up. You consider packing it up, reading a good book instead.
But you send it out again. And again.
And then, it happens. A bite. “We’d like to run your story in our next issue.”
You reel it in. You celebrate it. You savor it because there’s nothing like the taste of Yes.
Then you write another story. Revise, critique, revise, and send it out. And it all starts over again.
Do you see it? Do you see how submitting stories is like fishing?
When you’re out there on the lake, do you give up after the first cast? Of course not. You send your line back out. You check to make sure your bait is still appetizing. Sometimes you change your bait from salmon eggs to worms. Sometimes you move to another part of the lake. Sometimes you move to another lake altogether. You watch for rings in the water. You watch for your bobber to bob. You ask the others out there fishing if they’re getting any bites.
You cast your line out again and again. You go back out onto the lake the next day, and the next.
You don’t give up.
The fish are whistling.