Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Plateaus and Breakthroughs

The last few times I ran, I felt like I was slogging through molasses. I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and I finished those runs feeling disappointed.

Frankie finds new skills tiring
The last few short stories I wrote, it felt like pulling teeth to get the words down. I kept thinking, "This isn't right. This sucks." I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and although I finished the stories, I was disappointed in them.

See any similarities? Usually I struggled with one or the other (or best of all, neither), but both running and writing have been tough recently. I have to keep reminding myself that this usually happens before some sort of breakthrough: an insight about story telling, or the ability to run a little faster or a little farther. It's the mandatory suckiness before new synapses finally make their connection. It's the darkness before an AHA! moment. It's the reason I consider drinking more often.

It's nice to feel like I'm writing well or running well. I like feeling competent. So these plateaus leave me frustrated and grumbling and crotchety. And even though I've been around long enough to realize it's a temporary state that means I'm mastering a new skill, I still dislike feeling mediocre. But I run anyway and just do my best, waiting for my body to catch up with my brain. I still write anyway and try to make the story the best I can, knowing that I'm digging deeper and making progress on my craft.

One of these days, the light bulb will go off while I'm writing, and something gorgeous will come out on paper. And another light bulb will go off while I'm running, and I'll go farther and faster than I have before. I just have to be patient and embrace the plateau.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It was a gripping story, and I found myself irked by things like having to go to work and eat and take showers because all of those things took away from the time I could spend reading the book. Louie Zamperini was an resilient person who went through some horrendous experiences, from days on a life raft after his plane crashed into the ocean, to months as a POW, subject to malnutrition, disease, physical and emotional abuse, and squalid living conditions. It's amazing that he survived.
WWII Memorial

There's nothing in my life that can ever come close to comparing. I can't say that I've ever been challenged that way. I've been fortunate to live a comfortable life, and I'm grateful for that. And yet, I have faced challenges and continue to do so. Here's a little secret... I like challenges. Not the surviving-shark-infested-waters-after-a-plane-crash type of challenges, but the kind that make me push myself in a relatively safe and healthy way.

I read through this list and recognized a lot of Louie's POW experience in there, although there was a deeper layer to what he and the other POW's went through because their captors were actively trying to dehumanize them. But Louie's experiences as a kid, as an Olympian, and stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean certainly fit on that list.

Some of the items on the list reminded me of what I need more of. For instance, I've racked up 290 rejections for my short stories, and that's only the ones I've recorded on this app that I use. I had more rejections before I started using it. I've made 13 sales. That's a huge difference, right? That's a lot of "no's" in order to get to a few "yes's." I manage rejection fairly well, most of the time, but sometimes I do despair and gnash my teeth and rend my garments. I think I could manage rejections better, and so I started a little game where I rack up points for rejections, and when I reach a certain level, I treat myself to something nice. It's already working. I don't put off resubmitting a story when it comes back. Instead, I mark down the points I earned and send it back out.