I just returned from a college cross country race. It was actually held at Memorial Lake near Fort Indian Town Gap but hosted by Lebanon Valley College. My son runs for Penn State Altoona and this was his first college race. The day was damp and cool, the grass soaked and the course a mixture of fine gravel and stretches of quagmire.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the sport, let me give a brief description. The teams, usually of a dozen or so runners, line up across a field for the start. At the gun they sprint out to get position as the path will narrow quickly and take them into the woods or over hill and dale. As a fan, you often only can see small portions of the race. Though the runners start out in a bunch, they quickly spread out as the stronger runners pull away. Most of the race is far from any cheering or encouragement. Most people watching are at the finish line and when you're talking about cross country, the only fans are usually the parents and very close friends. It's a lonely sport with few accolades and is virtually ignored by media coverage until things like state or national meets roll around.
Perhaps more than any other sport, long distance running takes an inner strength and measure of perseverance without reward more than any other sport. My son finished 31st overall today and fourth for his team. It was his best race ever and his coach was pleased with his finish. His 31st place really helped his team. His name and picture won't be in the paper or on TV. Not even his team mate who finished first overall will be getting an endorsement offer. There's no glory for a gutsy performance. Who sees that race and thinks of all the hours spend running?
I couldn't help today as I talked to my son after the race how much writing is like that long distance running. The work is done mostly alone, the motivation comes from somewhere inside and even when the finished product, the race, is done, the accolades are few and far between.
The triumph is sometimes known only to us or only to those in our same position. My son's team mates and coach understood what a great day they all had as my writer friends understand and applaud my achievements. Fellow runners know how difficult all those miles of training can be as my fellow writers know how many hours are spent on each project.
Distant runners don't just go out and run miles. They do speed work and hill running and make sure they eat correctly. Writers don't just sit down at the keyboard, they edit and reread and rewrite and blog.
On a cross country team most encouragement comes from each other exactly as writers depend on each other to help one get over a dry spell or get by discouragement. There are many people with ideas that might make a great novel but how many actually sit down and write it? How many have the will to write for hours, then edit and then rewrite and then do it all again? Just like the runner keeps going up the impossible hill and for one more mile, so do we as writers. We can't stop because someone passes us or passes on us. We don't stop because we're too tired and the day is too short. And we help each other keep going, cheering encouraging and sometimes training together. If you know a writer who is struggling right now, take a moment to give them some encouragement. My local chapter of RWA, is having a little group, get each other going, challenge this month. CPRW is challenging each other to write no less than 50 words every day for 50 days. I think they'll find that once you write the first fifty words, a lot more flow forth.
So encourage someone today.
Remember we're all alone in this together.