The start that stops

“It’s the start that stops most people.”

This quote applies to just about every situation.

Take jogging, for instance. Before I’ve even made it two blocks, I’m already gasping for air, sore in all sorts of places, ready to turn around and go home.

Or reading a book. Two pages in, and my patience is wearing thin. Can’t the author get to the good part already, the one that’s supposed to be “transformative” or “haunting” or “unlike anything you’ll read this year”?

But two hours into jogging, the euphoria sets in and although my body may be tired, the ache fades to the background like white noise.

Several hundred pages into Moby Dick or House of Leaves, I’ve broken through several dimensions and everything, even the air around me, feels somehow altered.

For those of us in creative endeavors (writing, acting, painting, etc.) or starting our own business, or both, the period of acclimation is more protracted and painful, the reward more distant—not mere hours or weeks, but months, even years.

Progress can be slower than the flow of traffic on a gridlocked freeway at 6 PM—in other words, non-existent.

Some days it feels like I’m actually moving backwards. I’ll look at what I’ve written that day and think, “Man, my fourth graders write better than that.”

But this idea of regression is largely illusory, and even if it were true, so what? Many millionaires, even billionaires, have experienced bankruptcy at some point in their life, a failed business venture. Just about every successful writer/actor/musician has had a flop, in many cases a mortifying one.

So did the flops and bankruptcies, the bad writing days, cancel out the successful ones? If we were to apply that same logic to other situations, why do the laundry? Why wash the dishes?

The truth is, meaningful progress always involves some degree of pain, frustration, even humiliation. As a kid, I didn’t get this. I watched all the Endless Summer movies, fantasized about being a pro surfer, rented a surfboard for the first time, got up, fell within two seconds, and decided surfing wasn’t for me. Besides, the movies didn’t show all the paddling to get to the waves, which was super annoying.

Since then, I have learned how to manage my expectations. Still, in my first graduate creative writing class, I wrote an “experimental” piece that was largely inspired by my newfound discovery that I could fit blocks of text into different shapes. I was hurt when my classmates seemed puzzled by my display of “abstract art.”

As I read more deeply and dedicated more hours to my writing, though, my stories went places I could have never imagined and writing, which was once painful (and can still be, when I’ve gotten “out of shape”), led to hypnotic states where the words took on a mind of their own, kind of like the way it feels like you’ll never get out of the traffic and suddenly you’re home.

So yes, the starting is always going to suck a bit, but that just makes the not stopping, the pushing through, all the more rewarding.

 

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