The Power of Persistence
The other day when I was dusting bookshelves, I came to the shelf where we keep our photo albums and . . . I’m sure you can guess what happened. Who can resist a photo album? Especially the pages that record family vacations. Most especially, when you’re supposed to be doing something as boring as dusting. But I digress. Back to the point–and I do have one. There were dozens of shots of the Grand Canyon-for obvious reasons. It’s a sight that overwhelms, nature’s handiwork on a scale that defies comprehension. The canyon is at some points over eighteen miles wide and a mile deep. It is, in the words of Naturalist John Muir, “. . .a gigantic statement for even nature to make.” It’s hard to believe that it was created by the ordinary interaction between sand and water. Grain by grain. Drop by drop. Wind, too, played its part. And time. Lots and lots of time.
Looking at the pictures, I thought of a little poem I learned from my grandmother:
Tiny drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean,
And form this pleasant land.
(That may not be exactly right; it was, after all, a long time ago.)
I still like that little verse. When I was small, I responded to the sound of it, the way the words flowed with kind of a seesaw rhythm. I liked the fact that it was short and, probably most of all, I loved sitting in Gram’s lap while the two of us recited the words together. Back then, I’m pretty sure I didn’t comprehend the implications of those few short lines. Now, as an adult who is, to put it kindly, discipline challenged, I read a lot into them. They remind me of the power of persistence, of what can be achieved by simply chipping away at a monumental task, ticking off one small item at a time until the job is done.
As a writer, that little rhyme tells me not to listen to the niggling voice that asks: Do you really think you can do this? Writing a book, a whole book, is a huge task. I’ve learned (actually am learning would be more accurate) to forget about the huge task and focus on one thing at a time. Stop worrying about the whole book. Just write the next word. Trust that another will flow from that. That’s how stories are made. Even great stories, the ones we call classics. Yes, but–the niggling voice answers back–those books were written by geniuses. That’s probably true, but not a reason to quit. Genius would be nice but, since we don’t get to pick that card, I’ll settle for persistence. Even the books that make the most gigantic statements were made one word at a time.
A word. A sentence. A paragraph. These are the sand, the water, and the wind that shape our stories. And time. Sometimes lots and lots of time.