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.
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.