I used to coach tennis. Those years remain among my favorite times as an educator. The young women who gifted me with their talent and commitment will always have a special place in my heart. But being a competitive athlete is tough. The girls and I had a mantra to sustain us during the long seasons. When the matches get tough, keep on grinding. That meant digging deep inside yourself, grasping the strength coiled there, and pushing through the hard times. Watching those young women stick to a game plan despite being sometimes over-matched or ill or in pain taught me more than they could ever know about grit, determination, and perseverance.
As a writer, I confront those ‘grinding’ moments on a regular basis. I suppose I ask myself several times each month, is this worth it? When those rejections arrive, or my queries are ignored, or my writers’ group says my new idea just isn’t working, I weigh the cost of going on against the disappointment of letting go. Which I can’t seem to do. Because the writing means more to me than the pain. Then I grind.
So much about this writing game is muscle memory. Sit, pound out the words, read, repeat. Just as tennis drills involve establishing that rhythm, teaching your body to react, practicing footwork, writing has its own set of drills. The journey begins with setting aside a time and place to make the work appear. This requires giving up, letting go, adjusting my life to exclude those activities that take away my writing time. It also means teaching my brain to ferret out the perfect word, the crafty line, the plot points that complete the arc of the story. This writing game demands that I do the grunt work of research and evaluation, of drafting and revising. Before the piece takes the court, so much difficult work must happen. I grind on.
There is glamour in winning. Watch those amazing Open tournaments. Attend a local match. Admire the men and women who endure heat, injury, and long sets to lift a cup and thank the audience. See them sweat, mourn a loss, celebrate a victory. For writers, victory comes with publication. But the moment is short-lived. We return, shrug off the afterglow, and pursue the next great tale. Perhaps, then, for writers, vindication occurs before that moment of victory, when the essay, story or poem reaches for us, passion takes hold, and we follow the memory, swinging at the ball of story, following the lob or cross-court shot into something beautiful, something moving. In the space between, the grinding transforms us. We emerge stronger, fiercer, more determined.
See you on the court!