I am failing.
I have committed to publishing electronic versions of my manuscript, Your Mileage May Vary, about a cross-country bicycle trip I participated in with the American Lung Association in 1998. I was 29 years old, overweight, asthmatic, and a novice cyclist who didn’t even own a bike when I signed up for the 48 day journey. I was also in search of adventure, and through that adventure, some lasting sense of who I was and what my life was about. I’ve decided to publish now not so much because I think my account of the trip will change anyone else’s life dramatically, but because the trip changed my life so dramatically that I have been obsessed with it for the eleven years since. Many people helped me achieve the goal of participating in that event and many people helped make the event what it was – and I have not adequately thanked any of those people, nor have I followed through on my commitment to share my writing about the event with them. Publishing the book will help me repay a karmic debt I feel I owe and, hopefully, also will help me gain greater clarity and move on to new projects.
I am trying to be as professional about the publishing as I am able and have found, I believe, a travel editor who is interested in helping me polish the manuscript. Before she undertakes the editing, however, she wants to know that I am serious and that I have done all of the thinking I need to do to be able to launch the book in the world once it’s ready. I think she’s also gauging whether the manuscript is worth bothering to edit based on how I describe it.
And this is where the failure comes in. I am failing to define my audience well (I used to think I had a wide audience – as most novice writers do – and have narrowed my target audience considerably, so much so that she has actually suggested I widen it again) and failing even more profoundly to define the benefits my book will convey to readers. When you ask, “why should I read your book?” I’m supposed to have an answer beyond “because it might be fun.”
Okay, before I get much farther along this path, I need to stop here and say that even though I claim to be failing, and it really does feel like that, I don’t really believe in failure. I don’t believe in mistakes. Every action and its consequence, every experience shapes who I am becoming. If I changed anything about my past, I would not be who I am at this moment, and, despite my sometimes claims to the contrary, I do like who I am and what my life has been. Even if it were possible to erase painful memories or eradicate pieces of my experience à la The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is nothing I would give up. (That reminds me, I also need to do a post on Unknown White Male.) My struggles now, my temporary “failures,” are doing what they are supposed to and making me decide whether a) I’m going to abandon, once and for all, this project that I’ve loved for so long or b) I’m going to get stronger and clearer and carve a path for it in the world. I’m sure there are editors out there who wouldn’t force me to go through this process first, but would gladly accept my payment and do the work I asked them to do and move on to the next project without investing personally in the success of this one. But I know this is work I need to do and it’s easier (really? maybe not so much easier!) to go through it with someone else than to go through it alone. It’s difficult, it sucks, and I have allowed my indecision, confusion, and fear to grind the process of getting the book out to a near stand-still.
Which brings me to the idea of forward motion. A few weeks ago, Hiro Boga posted a comment on this great post about personal responsibility by Chris Guillebeau that began with the words “a path is made by walking.” This was the first time I’d heard the quote from the taoist Chuang Tzu and I LOVE IT! So often I feel I should SEE the path laid out before me and I get frustrated when I see nothing but trees and thick undergrowth and don’t know which way to go. I forget that I chose to walk my own path, which means I must create my own path. Which means I have to take the next step, whatever that step is. I can stand and stare into the forest, and be scared or stall or look for diversions, for as long as I want, but those are moments I lose and moments in which I lose momentum.
Which is not to say that I have to move quickly, only that I should aim for consistency. One small step per day may be all I can manage and that’s okay. Today I took a small step (that, because it was the culmination of several other small steps, felt like a giant leap!) that did not land me where I thought it would. Instead of moving me forward fast and far, it turned me around and insisted I start again. This evening I have made an attempt to start again, and tomorrow I will get up and make another attempt. That’s how fear and inertia are defeated. I have them on the run! Do you feel it, too?