Friday, October 26, 2012

Being Good Enough

by Riley Redgate

I used to run Cross Country in high school. As such, I can say with authority that it is a painful sport. If you don't feel terrible at some point during your run, odds are you're not running hard enough, or so the coach will tell you. "Pain is weakness leaving the body! Hrrrgh!"

And the fun thing about it is that it never gets easier. Soreness is part of the territory, no matter how fast or slow you are. If you run three straight 8-minute miles and you feel like you're going to drop dead afterward, great. Keep running hard, and maybe soon you'll be able to run three straight 7-minute miles. And then you'll have the privilege of ... still feeling like you're going to drop dead afterward.

Now, although writing rarely involves physical agony (erm, or so one would hope), the process is virtually the same. An eternal uphill battle. How so, you ask? Writers themselves are works in progress. We are never a finished product. We, and our writing styles, are always learning, evolving, transforming. We will always be able to improve, which is one of the reasons the process is so exciting. It's never the same thing twice.

The similarities don't end there. Most writers are constantly barraged with the pressure to measure their success by other people's reactions. Will agents like my book? they wonder. (Heck, will they even like my query letter?) How about publishers? How about reviewers? How about (gulp) the reading public at large?

But the most important question should always be, Do I like my own book? Just as a new PR (personal record) is the thing cross-country runners aim for, as writers, we should first aim for our best possible personal effort. I mean, let's be real: If every runner held him or herself to the standards of an Olympian, 1) there would be a hell of a lot more injuries out there, and 2) they would only ever feel bad about themselves.

I am not Tirunesh Dibaba, the 5k gold medalist. She is shorter than me, lighter than me, and built differently. I will never be her. I will never run three miles in fifteen minutes. Aspiring to be her is pointless. And similarly, writers can't poison their own mindsets by wanting nothing but to be the next Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Bill Shakespeare. That road leads nowhere—and it is a depressing one to run.

We've all heard Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare are "great." But since we won't ever become them—since we can't measure how good we are by other people—how do we know when we're good enough? For each of us, what is "good enough"?

Well, achievement is not a spectrum or a sliding scale for all of humanity. Good enough is and always will be your personal best. Your life. Your PR.

Here's hoping you break your record!

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.

(P.S. Sorry that this post is oddly late in the day, regular FTWA readers! I posted it in the wee hours of the morning and the Blogger gods promptly decided to consume it.)


Jean Oram said...

3 miles in 15 minutes. Wow. That takes me more than twice that. ;p

I'd just be happy to get my stories to a point where I think--good enough! (And actually have them be good enough!)

JeffO said...

Great post, Riley. I was reading Miss Snark's First Victim today, and oddly enough, running came to mind. I'm not a runner, but my daughter is (cross country and 1500 and 3K in track). Watching those races, there's such a different feel to them than the various sprints. They're competitive, yet so much of the competition in the distance runs seems to be in the runner's head, with herself. All you can do is make your writing the best it can be, strive to make it better with each project, and not really worry about anyone else. Have a great weekend.

Dang! I just used up an inspirational blog post of my own!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post, Riley. I agree we just have to keep working and striving for our PBs.

I often tell my students "your best is always good enough" :)

SC Author said...

I've heard this over and over from so many sources, but this message has never connected to me like it has in this post. I kept deluding myself, but now I understand just a little more that the fun is in the writing, and it's all a struggle against myself.

Thank you so so so much for this post. I really needed it.

Riley Redgate said...

Jean - Guh, the woman is a wizard! I can't even fathom running that fast. (And I hope someday I'll look at my WIP and say, "good enough," too! Ack.)

Jeff - Haha, yes, absolutely! Running, for such a physical and seemingly external sport, is extraordinarily mental. Without strong internal drive to do as well as you can do, you never get anywhere. (At my high school, runners were often high-achievers. It sort of fits the same mindset.)

Jemi - Ooh, wonderful motto! Only reinforces my mental image of you as a wonderful teacher. ;)

SC - I'm so glad it helped. [hug] Rock on, bro. And yeah - have fun with it! We're all here for the wonderful crazy exciting journey. :D

Liza said...

This is so right. It's doing our own best that matters!