Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

10 Jan

Let me tell you a story:

When I was in 7th grade, I joined the track team to hang out with my friends.  The kids who weren’t fast ended up running the mile race — in other words, I was in the mile race.

Thing was, I never practiced.  In fact, I spent every day at practice just chatting away and walking at a leisurely stroll.  Running is in my family tree (my mom is a marathoner), and I kinda figured I had inherited the skill…

Come on, I thought, if Mom can run 26 miles, how hard can a single mile be?

Um, turns out it can be brutal, and it should come as no surprise that at the first track meet, I got last place.  DEAD LAST.  I cried, and worse than that, I quit the track team out of shame and absolute self-loathing.

Another story:

When I was 15, I agreed to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” (the USA’s National Anthem) at a regional swim meet.  I had performed in front of people many times, and I was taking voice lessons.  I thought it’d be an easy-peezy song ‘cos, you know, people are always singing it!  And so I didn’t practice at all…

Come on, I thought, it’s the national anthem.  Everyone knows it.  We sing it a baseball games — how hard can it be?

Well, half-way through the performance (everyone in the audience was standing with their hats off and hands over their hearts), I froze up.  I had forgotten the words.

So I just stopped singing while my eyes bulged white and mouth bobbed like a fish.  Fortunately, the audience kept singing, and I managed to pick back up.  But as soon as the song was over, I ran to the nearest bathroom stall, cried, and vowed never to show my face in public again.

Yada-yada-yada, you get the point: absolute self-loathing.

Notice something?  I got what I deserved.  I looked at someone else’s success and figured I could do the same…  So then, when I failed, I thought it was because I sucked, because I wasn’t good enough, because everyone else was better…  I didn’t realize it was my choice to be lazy and not practice.

Writing is kind of the same.

When I fail, it hurts.  When my crit readers say, “No, that’s not a great idea” or my agents say, “I think you need to fix that”, it doesn’t matter how sugar-coated their words are, it never feels good.  I think of all those other writers who don’t have to revise/rewrite/start-over, and I wonder if I’m just a shoddy author…

But then I eat a few cookies, and things start to look up.  In fact, I start to feel downright good about my failures.

Why?  Because I’m in charge. This time, I’m not going to give up.  This time, defeat won’t win.  I will win, and not by comparing myself to that writer with four hundred book deals or to that opera singer who can easily hit a high C or to my mom who can run ten miles no sweat.

I will win by working hard, and that means all the power is in my hands.

I will keep practicing; I will keep trying; I will compare my path to no one else’s; and one day — be it sooner or later — I will get to where I’m trying to go.

And I promise: you will too.


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

30 Responses to “Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper”

  1. Madeleine January 10, 2011 at 12:08 AM #

    Aw, Susan! This is such an encouraging post. I can completely relate.

    My mom and I spent the last 2-2 & a half hours revising my schedule for my next two years in high school. IT’S SCARY. It’s stressful to consider everything I need to manage to accomplish while continuing to write.

    But, luckily, I’M IN CHARGE. ;D

    Thanks, Sooz!


    • Savannah J. Foley January 10, 2011 at 1:15 AM #

      Oh man, I remember figuring out my high school schedule with my parents. It’s a unique stressor. You want to get it right, but have fun, and you don’t want it to be too hard or too easy and you have no idea what your degree will be anyway and it’s a huge, stressful mess. I’m glad it’s in your past 🙂

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:50 AM #

      Wow! I’m glad I had no choice in my high school schedule, otherwise I can see why that’s so scary! Good luck, and you ARE in charge!!

      ❤ ❤

  2. martha ramirez January 10, 2011 at 12:14 AM #

    Words to live by. You go girl! 😉

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:51 AM #

      Thanks, Martha! 😀

  3. Victoria Dixon January 10, 2011 at 12:25 AM #

    Thanks, Susan! I think I needed to hear this. If it’s any consolation, I was asked to sing “Amazing Grace” at my Grandfather’s funeral and did the exact same thing. I was a 16-year-old know-it-all who relied on a good voice and talent for waaaay too long; who then tried to rely on having sung “Amazing Grace” act least once a month all her life. Yeah. Everyone forgave me, of course. It’s the poor kid’s grandfather. She was overcome. Ba-lon-ey. I wasn’t overcome. I was more emotional days before, in fact. The funeral was more of a professional faux pas moment and that made it humiliating and rightfully so. I got cocky and screwed up my most beloved grandfather’s send off and I’ve never forgiven myself for it.

    • Victoria Dixon January 10, 2011 at 12:26 AM #

      Course, I also didn’t make that mistake again. ;D Now if I could just learn to be more forgiving… LOL

      • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:51 AM #

        Yeah, I’m still working on the forgiving part… I can get over the it’s-the-end-of-the-world mentality, but getting over the guilt? Not as easy!!

  4. Patricia Beaudin January 10, 2011 at 12:30 AM #

    When we are young we are cocky, full of ourselves and sure of our success. Now as adults, we know better, now we know it takes more than over confidence that isn’t quite deserved.

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:52 AM #

      That’s definitely true… Though I still get cocky — or worse, I get frustrated when I’m not as “good” as someone else. But, eyes on my own paper!! 🙂

  5. Mac_V January 10, 2011 at 12:54 AM #

    You GO girl! Under pressure, the words of the Star-Spangled Banner are ridiculously easy to forget. I feel your pain.

    Pretty much my only solid New Years Resolution and personal goal is to write every day, without fail. So far, so good. If I can push myself to do this every day for one year– it’s a start. And I know I can push myself past it.

    Thanks for the encouragement to keep doing it. You ROCK.

    ❤ Mac

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:53 AM #

      Thanks, Mac! ❤

      You can definitely do it! Even if you only write five minutes everyday, that's such a huge accomplishment! Good luck!

  6. Savannah J. Foley January 10, 2011 at 1:17 AM #

    Wow, that must have been awful, Susan! The closest I come to that is falling during a roller skating race at a school skate night and coming in last place.

    You’re absolutely right about working hard and not comparing yourself to others. My article tomorrow will be a nice foil to this. 🙂

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:55 AM #

      Hahaha, now I’m curious what your post will be about! 😉

      And yeah, I’ve had a lot EPIC FAIL moments in my life… I’m glad yours is only with roller skating!

  7. Ashley January 10, 2011 at 2:36 AM #

    I’m with Victoria, this is something I needed to read. Just when you’re about to give up and let your dream of becoming a published author go up in smoke, something inspires you to keep at it.

    Thanks for writing this, Sooz :).

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:57 AM #

      Yay, Ashley! I’m glad this came at the right moment. It’s so easy for motivation and heart to flag… I was definitely about to give up on writing last September (2010) — thank Heavens I didn’t!! 😀

      We can do it, though. I know we can — we just have to keep pushing and stay focused on our work only. GO TEAM!

      ❤ ❤

  8. Myra January 10, 2011 at 3:55 AM #

    All I want to say is that this is an amazing post, and that all writers should read it. Actually, everybody should, since it’s something we all need to be reminded of sometimes. 😀

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 3:58 AM #

      Awww, thanks! That’s such a sweet thing to say, Myra! ❤

      And I'm so glad you like the post! 🙂

  9. evgranger January 10, 2011 at 5:14 AM #

    I think returning to university as a mature student at 29 – and someone who had started THREE other uni degrees since graduating high school, but finishing none – I became a perfectionist. I had to “show the world” (really, just myself) that I could do it, that I could finish something I started. I worked my butt off and gave it my all, and graduated in June with a 1st class degree. I thought finally it would prove to myself that I CAN put in the hard work and have it pay off. But now that that era of my life is behind me, I’m starting to realise that I just plain old beat myself up when things don’t go precisely as I imagined. Not good! Too much time comparing myself to everyone else with the nagging thoughts, “I’m so far behind where they are!”

    Thank you for such an inspiring post today, and for sharing. Your encouragement and confidence is infectious 🙂

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 5:33 AM #

      Oh wow, good for you in getting that degree! And yes, I can sooooo relate to the beating yourself up when life didn’t go as planned.

      But you made it!! So now, you just gotta *not* beat yourself up in the future when things veer off course… 😉 Oh, so much easier said than done, right??

      • evgranger January 10, 2011 at 2:31 PM #

        Thanks 🙂 Definitely! It’s a skill to be learned for sure. I think it’s all about patience and acceptance that things take time, but when nurtured, will give great results. Here’s hoping 😀

  10. Holly January 10, 2011 at 10:27 AM #

    Awesome post, and a great reminder. You’ve got to be willing to put in the hard work to reach your dreams. I’m ready. 😉

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 10:43 AM #

      YEAH! GO TEAM! I’m glad you’re ready, and whenever you’re flagging, you know you’ve got me to cheer you on! YAY REVISIONS!

  11. Kat Zhang January 10, 2011 at 10:37 AM #

    Lovely post, Sooz :] Thanks for sharing! As someone in the throes of revisions right now, I needed that 😉

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 10:44 AM #

      And I know you’re kicking that revision’s little booty. And whenever you need another beta reader… Ooh, ooh! Pick me!

  12. ychi January 10, 2011 at 5:54 PM #

    I love finding uplifting posts when I need them, and especially when I don’t need them. Spread around the hope, eh?

    • sdennard January 10, 2011 at 6:24 PM #

      Definitely spread around the hope! If you’ve got any of your own, please share!! 😀

  13. Adriana Marachlian January 10, 2011 at 8:16 PM #

    I don’t think I realize I needed to read this until I did. Thank you! 🙂 I shall keep this in mind not only for writing, but for life.

    • sdennard January 11, 2011 at 5:16 AM #

      Haha, I’m glad you liked it. 🙂 And it’s definitely something I try to keep in mind for life!!

  14. anniefish July 16, 2012 at 9:16 AM #

    Oh my gosh! you have the BEST attitude about writing. I can’t wait to read your book!!!

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