It’s the start that stops
by Roxanne Henke
“Go for a walk,” I tell myself. I sigh. I feel lazy. Tired. “Nah,” I answer back.
“A little walk is better than no walk.” That darn conscience of mine is so smart.
I tie my tennis shoes and step outside, telling myself that today I will do my “short walk.” I have three paths plotted out; two of them are 2 to 5 miles. One is maybe 1 mile. That’s the one I’m doing today. Until I get to the short-walk turn. Gosh, I don’t want to stop. It’s a beautiful day. It feels so good to be outside and moving. So, I keep going and do a “long walk” instead. Yay, me!
It’s most often the “getting started” part that stops me.
I’ve written before of my struggle with depression. After I got it behind me (for the most part), I decided to return to college to get my interrupted-in-the-middle degree. It was daunting to think of returning to college in my late 30s. But, I made an appointment with the registrar at the closest college to me (which is still far). I was still a bit fragile from my bout with depression, so my mom drove me there. When I took a seat across from the registrar, I was just as scared as when I went to college the first time. The appointment didn’t last long. I explained my hopes of doing independent study classes, and maybe a day, or two, a week on campus. “That won’t work,” the registrar said. Appointment over. A bit in shock, I climbed into the car where my mom was waiting and burst into huge sobs.
After many weeks, I managed to regroup and went to visit another college 100 miles in the opposite direction. Not nearly as confident this time, I explained my plans. I held my breath. “We can make that work,” I was told. After about three semesters, I was crossing the university stage and had a diploma in my hands.
That day, I earned more than a college degree. I also learned that if I’d let that first “start” stop me, my college degree dream would have never happened.
Let me tell you about another dream about writing a book. It took me several years after my stint at college to convince myself that I really could write a novel. Once I got started, I could hardly stop. And then one day, I typed “The End.” Now what?
I started sending out query letters and the first 50 pages. (That’s how it was done “back then.”) Every letter that came back was a rejection, but almost all of them had a few personal comments written in the margins. All positive. One saying (I remember this verbatim), “This is good, I urge you to continue.”
And I did. Then, one day I got a letter saying that this book wasn’t what that publishing house was looking for just now, but he had contacted an editor at another publishing house and would I please send it to her. He was sure she was going to love it.
I sent it with the highest of hopes. And then I waited, and waited. One day, a thin envelope arrived in the mail from the publishing house. I was sure it was the first step to a publishing contract. With a grin, I ripped it open and read (again, I remember this sentence verbatim), “You need to go back and learn the craft of writing.” Ouch. She hated my novel.
I’d been working on edits, but I quit writing after that letter arrived. Totally and completely. Think of every cliché you can. I was washed up. My bubble had burst. The wind had gone out of my sails. I didn’t write a word for six months. And then, a small ember that hadn’t been extinguished by those discouraging words flared. I recalled the positive feedback I’d received amidst the rejection letters and determined to press on.
I filled out a registration form for a writer’s conference in California (where I could connect with editors and agents). And then I threw it in the garbage. I couldn’t do this. About two days later, another registration form for the same conference arrived in the mail. I took that as a sign, filled it out, wrote a check, put it in the mail – and promptly wished I could pull it back out. But, my hand wouldn’t fit in the slot.
I got accepted to the conference and, pushing age 45, flew to a place where I knew no one. I was petrified. This would be the litmus test. If no one here encouraged me, go back and read all those clichés. They would be the words that told the story of this dream of mine.
But, I met an editor. Two, actually, who told me to “send them something.” I was later told by the man who became my editor that maybe 5 percent of the people he tells to “send him something” actually do.
I sent something. Within a couple weeks, I got asked to send the whole manuscript. (By now email had been invented!) Within another month, I was offered a contract, not for just one book; they wanted two. And, later three more. And then another three.
I often think about that long path I took to get my college degree and then the pursuit of publication. Both of those pinnacle points in my life began with rejection, discouragement and self-doubt. But, I didn’t let them stop me from starting and restarting.
What’s stopping you? Whatever it is, press on. That’s how dreams come true