Books and Mountains

I’ve never really understood people who run long distances. I get the health aspect of it. I can understand the sense of accomplishment. But it all seems a bit monotonous. After all, in a marathon, after a while, isn’t it just the same thing? Mountain climbing, though, is something I get. Not in a way that I would probably ever attempt it, but I think I understand the desire. You climb a mountain to reach the top, to see the view, to stand where only a few others may have stood. But there’s a letdown inherent in the accomplishment.

This November I participated in NaNoWriMo. For those of you who may not know and wonder what that weird anagram means, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November a group of people, united by social media and the web, try to write a novel in 30 days, pushing themselves to reach the goal of 50,000 words.

NaNoWriMo is an interesting challenge; to the community it’s talked about like a competition, with a prize to win. But the only reward for finishing is a novel, and the only thing you’re really competing against is yourself. Nevertheless, it is a challenge.

It’s a lot like climbing a mountain. You get to the end, see how far you’ve come, but then there’s something else that always seems to accompany the sense of achievement.

Because finishing a novel, as much as an accomplishment as it is, is not quite as much an accomplishment as you might hope. The whole point of the month is to write 50,000 words, and at the end of the month what you have is 50,000 words. No agents or publishers contact you. No book deals magically show up on your doorstep. And more importantly, you might not find yourself suddenly brimming with the confidence to go get those things. Because what you have is 50,000 words. And you know it wasn’t anything miraculous that put them there; it was just you. And you know you, and you are nothing to write home about.

As great a thing it is to do, to know that I did it, I feel as if I want there to be more.

But a novel won’t make you feel good about yourself. Those who are writers know, it might just do the exact opposite. And that’s true, I would imagine, for most of life’s accomplishments. As good as they are, there’s no guarantee they will suddenly fill us with confidence and worth. They may be great and good things: love, health, relationships, things worth pursuing, but none of them will make us whole. We push and strive, but we might just find ourselves the same when we get there.

Of course, those things often provide the impetus to improvement. We might work to better ourselves because of them. But they are not the things that will give us value; at best they just show us that we have it. But if we don’t know that we have it already, no badge, no medal, no accomplishment will ever make us feel like we do. Because, in the end, we’re never really through. Writing, like mountain climbing, often brings one to a point where you can exclaim “I’m done!” and simultaneously lament, “I’m nowhere near finished.” Because once you’ve reached the peak, you realize you have to climb back down. And once you finish the first draft you realize that there’s this thing called editing. You’ve only just started.

  • But look how far you’ve come.

I wrote 50,000 words. A month ago, they didn’t exist. I made that. We’re in the season of retrospect, of looking back and asking ourselves what we did with last year. And when you look you may not see anything worth noting. You may feel like you are exactly where you were this time a year ago. But you’re not. I promise. You’ve done something. You’ve lived, you’ve breathed. You did a lap around the sun. But, however small it may seem, something is here that wasn’t here a year ago, a month ago, a day ago, and it’s because of you.

If you want to do more, do more. If you want to be more, be more. But none of us are nothing. We all make our mark on the world. All that’s left is for us to decide what kind of mark. Maybe you accomplished something great, maybe you met someone, started a company, moved someplace new. Maybe there’s something worth really celebrating. Celebrate it.

And then keep going. Because we’re always moving, writing, loving, breathing. Because we’re all works in progress.

 Written and loved on by Douglas Humphries