This Is Not a Race

Posted on 29 March 2012

Last week, I was taking a nice long walk in the Cleveland Metroparks when I came to a loop crowded with runners. They appeared to be training for some sort of marathon or half-marathon or whatever crazy distance real runners can handle. (Instead of certain other people who jog for 1.5 miles and then have to walk for 10 minutes until regular breathing is possible again. Ahem.)

As I strolled along one particular section of the loop, I came across huge messages scrawled in chalk on the pavement. They said:

THIS

IS

NOT

A

RACE

It’s only March!

CONTROL CONTROL CONTROL

I don’t think I need to tell you that I immediately stole that advice for my own writing-related goals. Try it. Simply replace “It’s only March!” with something like, “It’s only 2012” or “You’ve only worked on this book for three (or four, or five) years — that’s nothing” or “Don’t even think of the publishing industry; just keep writing.”

In Wild, a 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed lamented that she hadn’t already published a novel by that age. I wrote my first novel when I was 22 and I think I would have been legitimately dismayed to know back then it would take another 9 years before I held my first published book in my hands (and that it wasn’t the first novel I’d written — or the next one, or the next one).

From my perspective now, I am in grateful disbelief that I was this young when my first book was published. I also have no idea how many years it will take before I publish another, but at least my perspective on “publishing time” has changed. In other words: It doesn’t matter, stop stressing about imaginary timelines, and get to work.

So I write on. Control, control, control.

Photo: SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent)


10 responses to This Is Not a Race

  • Sarah W says:

    I use this advice to keep my jealousy down, too.

    Writing isn’t a race, so it doesn’t matter that I haven’t finished — I can genuinely applaud (and learn from) those who are ahead of me.

    Sometimes, it even works! :)

    • That’s a good point — I wasn’t viewing it specifically from a jealousy angle, but that fits perfectly. As competitive (and jealous) as writers can be, it’s a good reminder that another writer’s progress or success doesn’t really change anything for us.

  • Averil Dean says:

    Yes, as Sarah said, it helps me manage jealousy when I realize that every project is different, and every writer works through the process in her own way. One of my friends cranks out a book a month, another is still working her first book years later. I’m somewhere in the middle. None of that really matters. We’re all neck and neck, no matter where we are.

  • Lyra says:

    Stop stressing about imaginary timellines and get to work.

    Yes! Thank you for putting that into words and putting it out there. It’s hard isn’t it? Clearing away that exhausting clutter and seeing it for the chatter it is.
    Laura, can you imagine the book that would come from either of us if we were given only a month?? Gah!

  • Thank you, for this.

    I decided, from the time I wrote my first story at the age of eight, that I would be an author. While I’ve made my living by writing, I have yet to publish my first book. And I turned 50 last year.

    Frustrated about it? Feeling dejected, and occasionally depressed by it? Yes.

    Control. Control. Control. And just keep going.

  • lisahgolden says:

    I must remind myself of this. I’m treating every day like a race. And I feel like I’m losing.

  • Catherine says:

    I took years to get published. Years and years and four kids and divorces and intercontinental disasters. Even though I wrote my first novel in my early twenties and it was praised but not published. Before DLC (which is not the novel I thought I would write) was accepted I was even resentful of the years I had spent on other people, and squandered on myself. I desperately wanted to publish more than short stories before 40, but it didn’t happen. Now that it is going to take place I realise I am more ready than I would have been before, and that there is a right moment for us to bloom.

    You are lucky to have success early, and I have a feeling you are more organised and determined than I ever was, and you are able to guide your talents. I do wish you all the best. Lots of ideas, quality writing time, good colleagues, wisdom.

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