Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Inside my noggin

I'm probably not supposed to admit when I have doubts about myself--and exactly how much time and effort I waste on self-criticism. But here's a taste. I am a terrible newbie, but my boredom threshold is low so I am constantly on the lookout for new things to learn. I love the learning part, the challenging part, but hate not knowing something. Inevitably, I spend a lot of time wallowing in this internal conflict, waiting to become competent, and then once I'm competent, I rush off to sample the new shiny. Beating myself up the whole time.

I want to know and experience and learn everything, but I don't want to be vulnerable to it.

With writing fiction, for the first time, competence is not enough. I want to become a master.

As you might imagine, there are problems acknowledging this desire. For starters, it's kind of an obnoxious, self-indulgent goal to put out there. Besides, who's to say I can even master a thing like writing, no matter how hard I work or how much I want it? The best writers of fiction have talent and skill, craft, strategy, heart, the ability to make an audience feel something greater than themselves. Luck, persistence, perspective...

Only some of those qualities are even teachable.

A quick story--apologies if you've heard it before. Once I attempted to hike the trail up to Half Dome in Yosemite with friends. About three miles from the end, I was exhausted. Every muscle ached. Little kids kept passing me. My clothes were soaked with sweat and I just wanted to sit on a tree stump and not get up again for a long long time. Instead I focused on each step. Just one more step. One more. And forgot about the rest. In the end, I did not make it to the peak of Half Dome, but I made it farther than any out-of-shape person had a right to go. And I learned that big tasks are possible if I just focus on the next tiny bit and keep moving forward. Always forward. Speed doesn't matter.

And if all else fails, seek a new definition of success. (Internal, anyway. External definitions are usually pretty fixed.)

Not like I couldn't have learned those lessons from an Aesop's Fable, but in that one dehydrated moment, dragging my blistered feet up the side of a mountain, conscious of the dwindling weight of my CamelBak, it seemed like a revelation.

Small steps. Forward. Ignore the rest.

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