The Courage to Start

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start. — John Bingham

Starting, for me, has never been a problem. I can dig into my old computer files and find hundreds of started novels from way back when. My knitting basket currently holds a half-finished sweater and a few squares of the baby blanket I was making my friend’s now-two year old. I must have done weeks one through three of the couch to 5k program at least five times. I’ve always been good at starting things, but just after starting them, there’s always something brighter, shinier on the horizon. Something I’m more motivated to work on. Starting has never been the problem; finishing is.

So, knowing this, it’s a little odd that I found myself so drawn to the above quote when I saw it on a t-shirt at the 10K expo. I mean, there I was, finally about to finish something and what’s really grabbing me is a saying about having the courage to start. I bought the t-shirt. I brought it home. I showed it to my husband and he laughed.

It wasn’t quite the reaction I was going for.

After some careful thought, I realized he had a point. Evidence suggested that I had the courage to start down pat and that the miracle, for me anyway, was finishing. I thought, okay, maybe this doesn’t really apply to me. I kept the t-shirt anyway.

I still love the quote. It makes me think of all the people who won’t start something because they’re afraid. How many people want to write a novel, but are blocked by fear? How many people admire marathoners but won’t dare train for one themselves? Starting takes guts. It’s uncomfortable. It means you’re doing something different, making a change. It means you might fail spectacularly.

I’m used to failing spectacularly. In all my starts and stops with various hobbies, I’ve become very accustomed to the idea that I just might not finish what I start. It’s almost a joke. Having recognized this, I now go into projects with the nagging voice of failure in the back of my head. “Sure, start this novel. It’ll just end up in your incomplete manuscripts folder.” “Okay, enjoy the first few weeks c25k… AGAIN.” “Oh, good, another cast on. This will go well.”

For some people, namely people like me, it’s not just about having the courage to start. It’s about having the courage to start even  when you’ve started the project five times before and never finished it. For those of us, starting doesn’t mean you might fail, it means you already have failed and you’re coming back for more. There’s something to be said for being able to face down a blank page, knowing that there are four other “Chapter 1s” in a file folder on your desktop. Or climbing up on that treadmill and doing week one all over again because you’ve never managed to make it further than week three.

I remember the first time I tried to write a novel. I was twenty. I had a gazillion pieces of story in different files on my mac. I had grand hopes of expanding on them, but I never really got it together. I worked on the novel for a year. I had a beginning and kind of an end, but very little middle to speak of. I finally put that one a way and worked on other things, eventually abandoning each of them as well until finally I just decided that I must not be a novel writer. They were too difficult to finish.

Don’t think that this didn’t haunt me when I signed up for my first NaNoWriMo. Oh, it haunted me. I was convinced I was not going to finish. I’d spent the past ten years telling everyone I was not a novel writer. To make matters worse, I’d just gotten married and in cleaning out my old condo to sell it, I’d just discovered an entire box full of story starts, ideas for books, my short story collection that had been collected, but never polished. All the evidence of my failure to finish. It kind of sucked.

But I signed up. Something clicked and I finished. And a year later I finished another and then another. This not-a-novel-writer now has three manuscripts in her pocket, one of which is just about ready to go off to agents. All because I had the courage to start… again. It’s kind of a miracle.

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