How to Get Ahead in Writing, Any Other Job, or Life in General

If there’s a secret to success, either I haven’t discovered it yet, or I know it well and it just hasn’t entirely paid off yet. But if there’s one trick that has seen me safely out of a lot of low points in my life and helped me to reach a lot of highs, it’s this:

Never give up.

It may sound trite. Indeed, it may be trite. I don’t doubt that you must have heard it before. Plenty of people have said it, told you to do it, but my question is, have you listened? And when I say listen, I mean nota bene and take it to heart. Have you ever really thought, long and hard and deep, about what it means to never give up?

It’s About Starting

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.” *

Some people give up before they even make it out the starting gate. You’ll say “I don’t have the time for that,” or “I could never do that,” or “Sure, I can do that any time I feel like it—oh, look, something shiny.” Because you’re daunted or dispassionate or lazy, you won’t even try. But—if I can borrow Candace Cameron’s words off Monday night’s Dancing With the Stars premiere—”excuses are for losers.”

You can do it, if you try. You’ll surprise yourself, I promise you that.

But I’m not trying to sound like “The Little Engine That Could” here. I don’t want you to “think you can.” I want you to know you can. You have to set realistic goals. No, you can’t write a novel in a week without seriously altering your lifestyle for seven days. No, you can’t become astrophysicist while eating breakfast. No, you can’t become a Hollywood star or a professional athlete or a congressperson tomorrow just because you “think you can” today. But if you try, if you set not only your mind but your body to it, and stick to it with devotion and persistence, who knows? You could make it. But you won’t if you back down before giving yourself the chance.

It’s About Standing Firm

Now you’ve “tackled that thing that couldn’t be done”—so what now? Well, now that you’ve started, it’s easy street from here. All you have to do is find the time to fit it in. Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get to it later. That’s all right, put it off until tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll be less tired, lazy, unmotivated, distracted, stubborn, or whatever it is you are, then. If not, no problem! You can do it next week, when you’ll have more free time, when this is out of the way and that is over. (No. Seriously now, no. This is what we tell ourselves, and it’s not true.)

You need to prioritize. You need to dedicate. “Finding” time is for sissies. You make time, like the man or the woman that you are (assuming, that is, that you are one of the two). Whatever it is you’re trying to do, it’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to get done in one go. You have to be devoted and persistent.

Stop to rest? Sure, every once in a while, if it’s absolutely necessary to keep your sanity or to accomplish something else important. But never, ever “put it off.” That’s when you’ll never do it. That’s when it can’t be done; when you stop doing.

It’s About Trying Again

The sad truth is that you don’t always succeed. Sometimes you fail. And I’m going to be blunt here: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” Not everyone does. But it’s a cold hard fact that if you fail once but you don’t try again, you’ll never succeed. It’s not that you don’t know that—of course you do, we all do, by experience—it’s just that sometimes you forget it, don’t you?

To “give up” means more than just stopping because you’ve failed. You can give up at any step of the process: before you start, and that’s cowardly; by procrastinating, and that’s just lazy. But if you make it far enough to actually fail, and then give up—that’s so far beyond cowardice it deserves something bigger. Pusillanimous will do. That’s just plain pusillanimous.

It’s admitting defeat. It’s saying that you’re afraid to stand up because you might fall again. If you’d had that juvenile attitude as an infant, you would still be crawling! But you learned to walk because, even if you fell down and bruised yourself and cried about it, you were stronger and smarter because of it, and when you tried again, you were better prepared to succeed.

You’re always learning, always improving, always getting better, and each time you try, each time you fail, you’re another step closer to succeeding, until one day you do. Even then, it’s just another step forward.

But I’m going to be realistic again. You can only beat your head against a brick wall so many times. Sooner or later, something’s going to crack, be it the wall or you skull. There’s a definite risk it will be the latter. Maybe you’re already thinking that one does have to know “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em”? I tell you, that’s still cowardice! Or stupidity, take your pick. Don’t batter your skull into the brick wall until you’re bruised and bloody. Picked up a sledgehammer, dumdum. Sometimes real perseverance means learning and adapting. If at first you don’t succeed, change your tactics!

Keep trying. Do what it takes to become a better, more successful you. Never give up.

“But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “couldn’t be done,” and you’ll do it.” *

* Quotes excerpted from Edgar Albert Guest’s “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done,” a poem I have always found very moving and inspirational. I actually first learned of it when I heard the parody performed by “Edwin Carp,” that is Richard Haydn, on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The parody ends “and he tackled that thing that couldn’t be done . . . and he couldn’t do it!” I always found that version very inspirational too, as a matter of fact.


Categories: Imagining a Better World, Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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