Veronique Darwin

First is Worst

In Inspiration, Teaching, Thoughts on Writing on April 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

How do we ever start things, knowing our first attempt will be the worst? After years of experience knowing that success usually comes only after considerable amounts of failure, how do we ever begin anything new? I tried writing a first draft of a novel last year. I tried teaching last week. I also tried curling. I did them all wearing dark glasses of faith, surging forward with a white cane, sure I was going to have something called beginner’s luck. I came out of the first day of each unsure about my performance, unable to judge it on much of anything. I came out sure I was either a blow-away success or an utter failure, sure I could only be one or the other. In reality, all of my first days were very mediocre. What I had yet to realize in each activity is that everyone starts somewhere.

I forget this because I see people starting who aren’t really starting at all. I see writers my age who have novels published. I don’t realize they’ve been through Masters degrees in Creative Writing. I don’t realize that they’ve never had a job. I see new teachers like me who have complete control. I don’t realize they’ve taught before. I don’t realize they grew up with younger siblings. I see people doing things that I should be able to do and they’re doing them better than me. And I forget that everyone has to start somewhere.

I’m starting somewhere and it feels shitty. It feels shitty and I know that every day for the next few weeks, maybe the next few years will feel a little shitty. Because I’m passing over speed bumps and I’m learning the things every person has to learn in my position. I’m doing what I need to do in order to do the thing I am doing. But I hate it. I hate being aware of it.

What I need to focus on is the fact that the first day is the worst. The first day is long gone, as is the fifth. I am on to the sixth day of teaching and the sixth draft of my novel. I don’t know that the two are comparable, but the number is the same. Five times I’ve tried things. The first time I had nothing to go on, the second time I had one thing to go one, the third time I had two things to go on, the fourth time I had three things to go on, and so on. And now I am on to my sixth day and I have five days to go on. I am on to my sixth draft and I have five drafts to go on. I have five drafts to go on. I can go on because I am standing on five drafts. I have crushed them underneath me and I am five drafts taller and I am almost on to you, people who think you know what you’re doing. Because I know you never did. I know you started here, and I just never caught you in it. And you remember it, you remember the shitty days, the shitty drafts, but you can’t really imagine it, because something in you has shifted.

You are no longer a beginner. You have made it past something (maybe you had to create the thing in your mind) and you are suddenly in it. You haven’t made it (oh gosh, you’ll never make it), but you’re in it. The first is over and you’re on to the second, or at least the fourth, and you’re running forward because you’ve knocked everyone out of the race. You just kept going and look where you are.

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  1. “The only way around is through” Robert Frost said, and while starting something new is often hard, it’s temporary. Eventually, you will turn around and help someone else who is just stepping through the door, so she will have an easier time than you. Then you have arrived.

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