Monday, September 21, 2009

Marathon's and Short-Lists - Austin

Short-Listed! There is something fascinating in those words. Affirmation, credibility, encouragement and hope resound and echo. Even if the winner has been announced, gaining a place among those five or six finalists is like the shouts of the crowd two-thirds of the way through a marathon. “Keep going! Don’t quit! You’ve come this far -- you can make it!”

I’ve never run a marathon but I know several people who do. Even great athletes with superb conditioning face two or three times in every marathon when sheer stubborn will is the only thing that keeps them going. The shouts of the crowd stimulate but exhaustion doesn’t fade away. The “Why?” questions don’t suddenly resolve themselves. But they find some reserve of strength to keep running.

As writers most of us have put years of effort into manuscripts. We have ached when “Thank you for submitting, but. . .” responses have appeared in our mailboxes. We have browsed bookstore shelves and read best-sellers and thought, “I like my own story better than this.” We have also read some of those brilliant works and wondered, “How do I dare call myself a writer?” Sometimes we’ve slowed to a dull, plodding pace and wondered why we keep trying. “What’s the point?” is a question that has plagued us more than once on our journey.

Short-Listed! There is something affirming and encouraging, but no publishing contract in those words. There is the challenge to stay in the race but the finish line is not yet in sight. “What’s the point?” questions clamour loudly. Other interests and distractions acquire a strangely powerful draw.

It is at this point in the race – with so many miles already behind – that many people drop out of marathons. It is at this point too that many writers call it quits. They have stuck it out for mile after mile. The crowd is shouting encouragement but someone else has already crossed the finish line. They won’t be first.

It is the feet slapping the gravel behind you, the voice almost sobbing in exhaustion, “Don’t you dare quit!” that keeps you going. Strangely, your longing for that one coming behind to finish well is almost as intense as your own desire to win. Somehow you know that if you quit others are going to quit as well. You are running for them as much as for yourself now. Your mind can’t find logic in that but it gives you just enough reason to keep going.

Short-Listed! It is a milestone and a wonderful milestone but the race is not over. The finish line is not even in sight. There is no guarantee of that elusive contract with a royalty publisher if you finish this race.

For reasons I do not understand the temptation to quit has been strong since all the congratulations have poured in. But what if my quitting causes the one running just behind to also quit? What if that one has written the book that will tip the balance in a life I have tried so hard to reach? Maybe just completing the race; maybe just doing the very best I can do and stimulating someone else to have to be a little bit better is enough to raise the standard, push excellence up one notch. It’s not the goal I’m running for but just maybe, it’s an achievement as honourable in God’s sight. So – I’m still running, however slow my pace – and for the rest of you – “Don’t you dare quit either!”


Peter Black said...

Hello Brian,
You've again brought your emotions out with honesty into the open -- even on your sleeve -- for all to see, rendering yourself vulnerable. And yet, at the same time you reveal to us what we ourselves experience, while inspiring us to press on.
Thank you.

Glynis said...

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV) "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."

It has been obvious over the years what an encouragement and inspiration you have been to many, Brian. I remember one of my first conferences when you stood up and read some of your poetry at a night owl session. Your passion was contagious. And still is...write on o scribe!

Joanna Mallory said...

Good thoughts, Brian, and thank you for being one of those encouraging voices calling out not to quit.

Keep running, walking, or even crawling... as long as it's forward. Pausing for refreshment is okay, but keep moving.

The only way we'll know we won't make it is if we stop.

Congratulations on your short-listing. It's a visible affirmation and validation of your work.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Dear Brian,
I never thought that my choosing not to quit could be helpful to others facing the same battle of discouragement. Thanks for further motivation to keep going. We are all in this together to build His kingdom.

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