Monday, May 17, 2010

The Value of Doing Hard Things

During her awesome Writing a Killer Query workshop at this past LDStorymakers conference, the esteemed Elana Johnson gave some advice that goes beyond querying, beyond writing, and applies to life in general.

"This is really hard," she said on at least three occasions. "But that's okay, because you can do hard things."

Looking back on my life, I see that choosing to do hard things is what helped me grow the most.

I thought about this the other day when I was visiting someone who lived on the side of a hill. Their driveway and parking area resembled a roller coaster, and I ended up parked on a steep slope in my truck. My truck with the manual transmission.

This wasn't the first time I'd been in this situation, stopped on the side of a steep hill.

Years ago when I was learning to drive, and just about to take my driver's license test, our big old family station wagon gave up the ghost. Irreparably dead.

As a replacement, my parents bought a cute little Datsun. Cute as it was, however, this car scared me to death - because right between the front two seats sat a stick shift.

Now, I desperately wanted to get my license. I was already seventeen (which is another story altogether) and the prom was coming up, so I took a crash course in driving with a manual transmission and hurried off to the testing center.

Needless to say, I did not do well. It was bad enough that I stalled in the parking lot with the examiner next to me, followed by trying to start from a stop sign in third gear. But then, at the end of the test (which I had undoubtedly already failed) my sadistic examiner took me to The Hill.

Two-thousand feet straight into the air, The Hill shot up at an eighty-five degree angle, and there was a stop sign perched right at the top.

Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that steep, but to a stick-shift flunky it sure looked that way. And there really was a stop sign at the top. I did my best, only rolling back about fifty feet while gunning the engine and easing out the clutch.

We got back to the testing center and set up an appointment for me to retake the test.

Now, I was a pretty good driver. Every single one of the things I failed on that test came directly from my inexperience with the manual gearbox. If I had taken the test in an automatic, I would have passed with flying colors.

Which is why it was such a temptation when our neighbors offered to let me borrow their car to retake the test. Oh, it was tempting. Really, really tempting. After all, a license was a license, and it didn't matter what kind of transmission I used to get it.

And yet somehow I felt as though using a different car would be like cheating. Maybe it was stubbornness, or maybe it was vain and foolish pride, but for whatever reason I determined that I would pass my test in the little Datsun, with the stick shift.

I practiced and practiced and then went down to take the test. At the end the examiner said. "Much better." In my mind I cheered! And then he said, "Next time, do these other things, and you'll pass."

My heart sank. I'd failed yet again. Which meant I rode to my Junior Prom stuck in the back seat of someone else's car.

But that second failure gave me an even stronger incentive to master that transmission, and I practiced and I practiced and I practiced, and that meant when I finally did pass my test two weeks later it was with a nearly perfect score.

It also means that I learned - really learned - to drive a stick, and I have never been intimidated by a stop sign at the top of a hill ever again.

Writing is hard. Querying is hard. Marketing is hard. Facing rejection after rejection is hard.

But, as my friend Elana says, that's okay. Because you can do hard things.



What an encouraging post! Beginning authors like me need this type of support. I am overwhelmed by all the things I have to do for the publishing process, much less write an awesome work. The writing is the easy part. I know I can do hard things. I earned my doctorate in my late 40's. If I did that, competing with people half my age and the age of my children, I can do this, and I will. Thanks for the pep talk. God bless.

Elana Johnson said...

Hey, thanks Don! I'm so glad that you came away with more than just querying advice.


Rebecca Talley said...


andrea said...

Well said! I loved this post.

Angie said...

Yes, Elana is awesome. And this is a great post. Thanks for sharing that story. It's so, so true.

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

Great advice, Don! My mom always used to say that to us: "You can do hard things." And now I've married into a clan with the motto In ardua tendit, which I most often see translated as "He attempts difficult things." (Sadly, no comment on his success....)