August 1, 2013

On your left

Sunday morning found my brother and me up and out early, milling about barefoot in a muddy, goose-poop covered, gnat infested park. He'd come out from Oklahoma especially for this, if you can believe that.

So what was this?

Well, we'd signed up for a sprint triathlon - 600 yard swim, 12 mile bike ride, 5k run - and Sunday was the day. I did one last year, loved it, and it was his turn to try. And I wasn't about to let him go it alone.

As with last year, for me the longest and toughest part of the race was the bike ride. Thing is, I grew up swimming on a team, so the swim doesn't bother me in the least. In fact, since breast stroke allows me to see where I'm going in the murky water, and apparently my breast stroke is as fast as many of the other girls' freestyles, I did that the whole time and it was remarkably easy. And I run all the time, so even though the run is last - after the killer bike ride - it's also comparatively fine. Not too terrible.

But the bike ride? Yikes.

I have a 13 year old mountain bike, with super-fat, tread-heavy tires and rusty chains. No matter how hard I pedal, there's only so fast it can go. So the 12 miles take a long time, and give me a long time to sight-see and daydream.

So that's what I did, of course.

The sight-seeing was great. The bike course runs out of the park and down towards Folly Beach, one of the prettier beaches in Charleston. There was a mild lightning storm out over the water, and I had fun listening to the low, rumbling thunder while the breeze kicked up and kept me relatively cool.

But my daydreaming kept getting interrupted by a single cry...

"On your left!"

That's what the other cyclists said, whenever they needed to pass me. I'd scoot over to the right, and they'd pass on the left, and after about twenty minutes of that I stuck myself pretty much at the right-most edge of the road and waved at the other cyclists as they passed.

It got me thinking - I know, you're shocked. Me? Think? Never. But really, racing like that (even when, like me, you're too slow to actually race) is so much like the journey of a writing career, it's almost too obvious of an analogy to make.

But I am Captain Obvious, so I will make it.

So. Triathlon. Writing. Here's what I'm saying.

In the first place, nothing is ever easy, and triathlons (even mini-ones) and becoming a published author are certainly both difficult. It's hard, going out there and training day after day, with nothing to show for it but a few blisters and a lot of sore muscles. It's also hard to sit down and write or edit each and every day, with nothing to show for it but a growing document on your computer and maybe an ebook or two (Undead America 2 is out this fall!!).

And though you're up against a gazillion other competitors (or writers), your toughest competition is always going to be yourself. It's the little voices that will really weigh you down. "I'm tired. I want to stop. My foot is bleeding and it really hurts." "Dude, this book sucks. No agent's ever going to want it. I'm never going to make any money."

It's tough to tell yourself to shut up, but if you want to succeed, if you even want to finish something, your really have to. 

Then, well, there are the other competitors. You know...the ones going so fast they tell you to move over? Or the ones getting the six figure book deals of which myths are truly made? There's always going to be that knee-jerk reaction towards jealousy, towards anger. "They just have a better bike than me...I could do that if I really wanted to." "They just write more commercially. Of course an agent wants them instead of me. I could do that if I really wanted to." 

But that's where you, once again, have to tell yourself to shut up and keep on going, because it's never going to get any easier, and they're working just as hard as you.

And that's also where the best thing to do is smile, wave, and voice your most sincere congratulations. Because there's enough of the world (both writing and racing) to go around. It doesn't matter who gets to the end first.

Do you see what I'm doing here? They really are the same, I swear.

Whatever it comes down to, it's good to remember, in both cases...the race and the road to publication are journeys, and that's what's important. The journey. Not who wins. Not who makes more money or gets better reviews. It's about the journey. 

And when you stop and think about it...if you're on the journey at all, well, sometimes that's truly all that matters. 

I swear.

My brother and me in our post-race selfie.
Note the glow of sweat and satisfaction.

Okay, I'm doing being an Optimistic Alligator now (Eddie B., that's for you), but just know: yes, I am a freak, and yes, this is what I thought about while pedaling my fool heart out Sunday morning. I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings today. I've enjoyed rambling them. 

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