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The Power of Persistence

August 21, 2012

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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2012 8:57 AM

    Wonderful post, Sandy, and a much-needed reminder for me and all writers to stay at it … word by word. 🙂

  2. August 22, 2012 9:59 AM

    Good thoughts, Sandy. I especially like “discipline challenged.” That describes me perfectly. Your Grand Canyon analogy is also apt. I can easily be overwhelmed by the big picture instead on working on it drop by drop, word by word. A good reminder. Thanks!

  3. August 22, 2012 10:36 AM

    Words of wisdom–we never know where those words will lead us. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. August 22, 2012 11:12 AM

    Great post Sandy, and so true. Thank you.

  5. August 22, 2012 11:44 AM

    There seems to be a common thread here. It sounds like all writers are “discipline challenged” and need to be reminded to take it “one word at a time”. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by.

  6. August 22, 2012 1:40 PM

    So beautiful put, Sandy!

    My way of dealing with the immensity of the task of writing a book is to think each chapter as a short story. And work on it, as you say, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.

    • August 22, 2012 1:48 PM

      Thanks, Carmen. I never thought of it like that, but each chapter is kind of a short story, with a beginning, middle, and an end and introducing a new element that leads to the final conclusion. I’ll remember that. I think it will be helpful.

  7. August 23, 2012 5:57 AM

    Excellent words of encouragement…..that I needed. Thanks, Sandy.

    • August 23, 2012 7:09 AM

      Thank you, Eileen, for stopping by and taking time to leave a comment. It seems a lot of us need encouragement. We writers are a needy lot. It’s a good thing we’re so supportative of each other.

  8. August 23, 2012 11:05 AM

    I so enjoyed your blog. The Grand Canyon is a favorite hiking and backpacking area for me. Your reflections fit in so well. Mary Hagen

    • August 23, 2012 1:12 PM

      Thanks, Mary. I’m afraid most of my experience of the Grand Canyan is from the upper area. I understand that, as you go deeper, the scenery changes. It’s an amazing place from any vantage point. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  9. August 23, 2012 2:00 PM

    I remember that little jingle from my childhood as well! Haven’t heard it for years.
    Thanks for recalling it. And yes, we have to focus on word by word, scene by scene, chapter by chapter–rather than being overwhelmed by the entire book.

  10. August 23, 2012 7:05 PM

    A good blog, Sandy. I get frustrated when life interferes too much with my writing like in the summer when there is so many other things to do; weeding, mowing, planting, canning, etc. plus vacations, reunions, the list goes on and on. Still, I have managed to write 4 books and a dozen short stories so it can still be done – page by page. There’s a folk song, too, that goes something like “Step by step the longest mile can still to done and also something about drops of water.” Several folk singers have that in their repertoire.

    • August 23, 2012 10:09 PM

      Thanks, Gloria, for stopping by and sharing the folk song. I don’t know that one, but remember the one with “inch by inch, row by row, like to watch my garden grow.” I guess it’s not just writers who have learn persistence. I know what you mean about summer-time distractions. So many temptations … so little will power.

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