A version of this post was first published in the Andilit.com newsletter.
by Amanda Cleary Eastep
I remember riding my bike up that steep hill in town as a child . . .
. . . skinny legs straining, fluorescent-orange safety flag hanging limp over my head, and a wave of nausea cresting the back of my throat.
Between my house and our small “downtown” rose a steep (to me) hill that I struggled to climb. Determined as I was to conquer it without having to stand over the bike’s white banana seat, stomping down hard on the pedals, I just never could build up enough strength to make it effortlessly to the top.
Usually, I had to slide off and walk my bike halfway up, trying not to feel like a tiny, 8-year-old failure.
The fact was . . . the peak was never my destination, anyway.
Once I made it over the top of the hill, I coasted west, jolted across the railroad tracks, and finally parked my bike against the K & J variety store. Quarters heavy in my pocket, I would prolong my anticipation by casually strolling the narrow aisles, warped wooden floors creaking under my gym shoes, until I reached my reward—cherry-flavored wax lips and a cellophane bag full of red licorice laces.
A few weeks ago in my online writing group, I was lamenting the slow progress of my second young adult manuscript.
Author and group founder Andi Cumbo Floyd asked why I felt so rushed. It was a simple but wise question.
Well, I’m way closer to death than I was in my wax lips days, for one, I thought. But the truth is, no one is waiting for me to finish this book (except maybe my dad).
Yet, I can’t shake this sense of urgency–this feeling that “walking” my book up the hill is a kind of failure.
“Slow and steady wins the race. And you’re only racing yourself. The day’s finish line is simply to be a better writer than you were yesterday. That’s it.” –from Andi’s Love Letters to Writers (“A Little Bit at a Time”)
I struggle with the “that’s it” part. I want to race myself and win. I want to master the incline like I have the writer thighs of Ernest Hemingway.
Of course, then, conquering the hill becomes the goal rather than part of the journey.
Pride tells us that to call ourselves real writers, we must get published traditionally or have X number of blog followers. That we must sell X number of books or garner at least a 4.36 star average on Goodreads.
But if the ultimate goal is simply to write, how we achieve that doesn’t really matter. Will it matter that some days climbing that hill comes with strain and sore finger muscles? Will it matter that we had to get off the ride and walk for a while to catch our breath?
I admit that at the top of that steep hill, I would love for there to be a publisher with a gold medal, a contract, and a lifetime supply of red licorice.
But even that would still just be one stop along the road to the true destination—being a writer. Instead, with every hill climbed, we have written. We are better writers than we were at the bottom.
That’s it. That’s everything.