The First Hurdles

The first hurdle of becoming a writer is to call yourself a writer. It’s much harder to do than it seems. Even now, having been out of college for nearly three years it’s my biggest struggle. There are all these hurdles all over the place in my mind, fencing me in. As soon as I jump one there is another right behind it.

I haven’t finished a story, so I’m not a writer.

I haven’t published anything, so I’m not a writer.

I have published a short story, but it’s only one, so I’m not a writer.

I haven’t published in a renowned publication so I must not be a writer.

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I haven’t gone on for an MFA in writing, so no one (even myself) believes I’m a writer.

I haven’t finished my novel so I’m certainly no writer.

I have finished my first novel, but haven’t gotten an agent, so I can’t be a writer.

All of these doubts and arguments roll around in my head everyday. So I try to quiet them by saying to myself:

If you write, you are a writer.

If you’ve written, then you’ve authored and no one can take that from you but you.

And the only measure of your success is that in which you place value. So quit whining.

It doesn’t always help. But it’s as good a philosophy to stick by as any. Especially when I’ve chosen to embark on an endeavor that promises rejection after rejection. Hurdle after hurdle. I figure there’s no need to reject myself before I’ve really even started – or stop myself before I’ve actually tried. Though what I know and what I allow myself to believe don’t always align.

Of course, it’s the starting that then becomes the issue. Sometimes those hurdles are a little higher than I’m capable of jumping. I have to remind myself that I have to make those jumps in my own time and as I’m ready. And I have to know that if I jump before I’m ready, I risk hurting myself. Then, if I do hurt myself, I have to remember I will have to heal. Though I can jump again, I might have to take the time to restart. So I just have to keep trying to jump.

I was watching this documentary on Bobby Fischer. One of the interviewees said something to the effect of: the one thing that all experts have in common is that all of them have logged over 10,000 hours of practice. I’ve heard this before. My sister-in-law is a professional flutist and instructor and she’s studied this idea. Most child prodigies start with some raw talent but the ones that make it have logged thousands of hours of practice and have obsessed over their passion. So, by this measure, the great ones start with a propensity toward something but what actually catapults them into greatness is the hours spent in practice.

Strangely. This comforts me. I’ll tell you why.

Because with every word I write, I’m practicing. I’m learning. And I’m logging my 10,000 hours. I’m choosing to jump that hurdle everyday that makes me a writer.

There’s always going to be another hurdle I can measure myself by — whether I put it there or someone else does. And there always should be. It’s not about the hurdles — it’s about the act of jumping. I want to be a writer that continues to write so I have to continue to write. When I jump the hurdle that gets me an agent, then I want to write well enough to jump the hurdle that gets me a publisher, and then, a book deal. And the race doesn’t end there because then there’s the second book deal, and the third, and the fourth. I have to keep writing if I’m to get a chance at those hurdles. The hurdles don’t ever stop. It’s only me who decides to stop jumping them.


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