July 29, 2018

Do the Work

Recently, my life took a sharp turn towards a schedule that rated on a scale of one to ten-- dumping itself into the threshold of “busy beyond belief.” Calm and quiet mornings of my past vaporized. The minute my eyes open in the morning, the shotgun fires and the race begins. I jolt. Jet. Dash. Fling. Everything is messy. Everything seems to be the color of chaos.

For years, I was a runner. In middle school, I ran the 100 meter dash until mid-season someone—the distance coach—told me I had the gift of endurance. Use it, she said. Join us. In high school and college I ran cross-country. I pinned a bib number to my uniform. The race officially begins the moment the shotgun fires. You go. I ran. I raced.

Running and writing both require work—the same quiet, silent, working-away-at-it work. No one sees the miles you log on the weekend. No one counts how many books you read. Or how many drafts you write. The end product? The results are right out in the open: the race you ran. The words you write.

But here’s the brilliant thing about racing and art: both takes time. Both take patience. When you sit down at 7:30 in the morning, art might not work itself out by 4 PM. When you start training for a 50K race on a Monday, you won’t be a pro by Saturday.

I’m certain I became a writer because in my childhood I was a reader. Thomas Jefferson said, “Books constitute capital,” and the capital I was amassing as a child carried me inward and onward into this future I’m occupying now. In this busy season of my life, I can’t forget that.

The act of reading is essential in any writer’s life. But reading is ingesting material. Reading is like eating the meal. Writing is the actual cooking of that meal. Writing is doing the work.

Writing is stepping into a cold kitchen with an empty fridge and a sink full of dirty dishes wondering how you’re going to make it happen. Writing is not walking away. Writing is not “going out to eat.” Writing is turning on the overhead light, rolling up your sleeves, and putting soap on the sponge. Writing is a start line.

Writing is about simply beginning.

Writing is also about the gift of endurance.

Recently, a friend reached out to me. She wrote to me asking for advice saying, I have this amazing idea for a book. I have so many ideas running in my head, but I’m not even sure where to start.

Here’s the thing: no one knows where to start.

The race could start anywhere. The race could lead you anywhere.

You only need to get started.

You only need to do the work.

You only need to begin.

Life wasn’t always like this.

Life hasn’t always been like this.

But what is the best realization of all?

Life doesn’t have to keep being like this.

New beginnings don’t need to include a shotgun start. A new beginning doesn’t even need to make a sound.

I’m learning to sift through the peace, the love, and the chaos. I’m feeling out which 100-meter dash events I’d rather leave alone and learning how to follow which other races feel right.


About the Author

Erin is a writer and a creative thinker. With her MFA from Columbia University and her B.A. from Warren Wilson College, she loves exploring process, uncovering how things work, and writing about what matters.

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