Like running a marathon, the first step in writing, or anything – I suppose, often seems daunting because we can not see the finish line from where we stand at the starting point. Yet, if we take one step at a time, setting mini- goals along the way, we are able to pull that finish line closer, with each benchmark we reach.
Anthony Robbins, businessman and author, says, “ The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.” If we do not at least attempt the crossing, taking it step by step, we prophesy our failure. Whereas, on the contrary, the likelihood of reaching our finish line increases with each step we take.
I recently read the New York Times Bestseller, A Long Walk to Water, written by Linda Sue Park, based on the true story of two individuals struggling to survive in Sudan in different time periods, which supports this idea to take one step at a time toward success. Both of the individuals in this story endure against challenges most of us could never imagine. It is their perseverance and determination not to give up that ultimately saves them, despite the obstacles in their paths which they must overcome.
Set in 1985 during civil unrest, during his quest to survive, eleven year old protagonist, Salva Mawien Dut Ariik lags behind the group with whom he travels on foot toward a Kenyon refugee camp, and he cries so hard he could hardly breath, when his uncle finds him. Pointing to what Salva’s uncle decides to be a first benchmark, he asks Salva, “ Do you see that group of bushes? You need only to walk as far as those bushes. Can you do that?” Salva admits he could see the bushes, which do not look too far away. Then, when he and his uncle reach the bushes, his uncle asks Salva if he sees the clump of rocks up ahead and so they walk to the rocks. “After that, a lone acacia… another clump of rocks…. a spot bare of everything except sand.” They continue that way for the rest of the walk. It was a long walk, but the journey becomes less formidable when broken down into smaller pieces.
Similarly, the other main character in the story, living in contemporary 2008, eleven year old Nya, walks eight hours a day to fetch water for her family. Her journey is also challenging, and like Salva, she struggles to reach her own finish line, day after day. Both characters ultimately achieve their purposes, by taking their journeys one step at a time, while neither individual in the story gives up, despite the many times they wish they could.
Likewise, Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, quotes the following , “A Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” As long as we take that first step, and then a second step, and a third, and so forth, never giving up, we will eventually arrive at our destination.
In Ann Lamont’s book, “ Bird by Bird”, she recounts how her brother, ten years old at the time, had a report on birds due for school. Despite that he had three months to do it, he waited until it was due the next day, feeling immobilized by the “hugeness of the task” ahead. Ann recalls how her father sat down next to her brother, placing his arm around his shoulder, sharing the following advice, “ Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird”. By breaking down our task into smaller segments, the undertaking shrinks in size. In fact, it becomes downright achievable, rather than overwhelming!
This idea is further illustrated by Jeff Goins, Writer, Speaker, and Entrepreneur, “ You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.” Like anything else we do, from following a recipe -one ingredient at a time, to crocheting a blanket- one stitch at a time, to painting a house -one room at a time, we progress, piece by piece, bit by bit, -one step at a time.
Stephen King advises new writers to keep going, without stopping,” If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, that moment can become”, in King’s words, the smooch of death, therefore; he advises to “just take it one word at a time”.
In other words, keep at it, look at only one fragment at a time, while staying in the present, remaining mindful of the task in front of you at this moment. Do not fear the future or the possibility of failure, and don’t let the past hinder you. Just keep going, one foot in front of the other.
We do not stop driving our car at night, toward our destination, because the end point is not within sight. Our headlights light up the road only so many feet in front of us, but we know eventually we will get there- so we keep going, taking our journey one street, one mile, one town- at a time, seeing more of the road before us the further we proceed.
That is the way we must think when it comes to writing, or again- to anything else we desire to pursue. We may feel immobilized with fear as we stare at that first blank page before us, dreading the other blank, wordless pages to follow. Yet, those pages will only remain blank if our thoughts and ideas are never permitted to escape past the gated borders of our minds, to their freedom, and on to the paper where they belong.
Unless we take the first step, the finish line we pursue will forever remain out of our reach.