I’m not a quitter. Never have been. I don’t know if it’s just not in my blood, or if it’s the way I was raised, but I can’t quit things. Sometimes, heck, a lot of times, I want to quit, I try to quit, but something deep within me won’t let go and instead, I plunge forward.
Take my knee for example. I’ve always had bad knees (thanks genetics!). I started playing sports when I was four (tee-ball). I played softball for twelve years, basketball for four (two in elementary and two in high school), and volleyball for four (in high school on both my school team and a club team). My knees started giving me trouble in the 9th grade. I tried a brace, hated it, and threw it in the back of the closet. Eventually, I just threw some tape under my patellas and played on. Right after I graduated college I twisted my right knee during a game of tennis and it’s been downhill since. I had arthroscopic surgery in 2009 that didn’t fix the problem. For the last month, I’ve been going through physical therapy twice a week trying to avoid surgery.
What does this have to do with quitting? Well, the therapist gives me different exercises, lately it has been weights, and a number of reps. I’m supposed to stop when it hurts. The only problem is, it always hurts, and there’s that little voice that tells me to push through and finish, to keep going through the pain. That’s the way it was in sports. You twist your ankle? Walk it off. Softball catches you in the shin? Toughen up. Push through. Keep going. Ignore the pain. Get back out there and hustle. Give it 110%. That mentality is the opposite of the way you’re supposed to think during physical therapy, so it’s difficult for me to know when to stop. (In case you’re wondering, the therapy didn’t work–it’s actually gotten worse–so I’m looking at open surgery in the coming months, bleh!).
Lately, I’ve been faced with adversity in my writing. I have a book I absolutely love. I love the characters, the story, the turns of phrase. My beta readers and critique partners have loved it. Agents have been interested, requesting partials and fulls, but I’ve gotten no bites. I’ve entered it into contests, but still no dice. So I started working on a new story, and again, I love it. I love the concept, the characters, the underlying themes, the descriptive paragraphs, but I’ve reached a point where I’m stuck. I know where I want to go, but I don’t know how to get there. My CPs have loved parts and disliked parts, test readers have loved sample chapters. I think the beginning is fantastic, but I’ve hit a wall.
I’ve been getting frustrated and disheartened. Part of me keeps saying: “This is too hard. You’ll never make it. You’ve got a greater chance of being struck by lightning. Give up and find something else. You’re not good enough.” The other part wants to punch my Debbie Downer half in the face. That part keeps yelling at me like a coach: “Suck it up. Who ever said it would be easy? Put down your purse and play ball. You’re talented when you don’t stand in your own way. Don’t wait for the play to happen, make it happen.” I want to quit, because it is hard. It is next to impossible. But there’s that something down deep that won’t let me. I get a rejection and wallow for a few days, then I pull myself up and try again.
It’s got me wondering: is writing more like playing sports, or is it more like physical therapy? Am I supposed to just keep going, keep pushing, keep working until I obtain my goal? Or am I supposed to stop when it hurts too much? I’m leaning toward it being like sports. No one ever promises you’ll win. Someone has to lose. (Funny side note: my little brother started playing baseball at the beginning of the “let’s stop keeping score/everyone’s a winner” days. This concept frustrated him to no end. (We come from a long line of competitive-ness–yeah, I made it up). So he kept score on his own. He kept track of his stats through every game and would adamantly refute anyone who told him he was a winner when he knew he lost). Losing makes you tougher. Without failure, you never truly appreciate victory. It makes you work harder, strive to be better, and expect more from yourself.
So I’ll take my failures. I’ll wear them like battle scars. Like grass stained softball pants and torn jerseys. Because those are indicators I played the game. I did more than sit the bench and watch from the sidelines. Win or lose, I played, and that’s what matters. With every rejection or blocked road (or mind as the current case may be), I’ll work harder, strive to be better, and expect more from myself. I may never be one of the elite, but it won’t be from lack of trying.