I used to live above Golden Gardens beach in Seattle. There’s a path that leads from the top of the bluff down two really long steep staircases and under the train tracks to the beach. It’s a pleasant walk down, but one hell of a climb back up. Invariably there is always some incredibly fit person who is jogging up the stairs carrying a bicycle and making you feel like an absolute chump for struggling along. I remember one particular climb that seemed to be taking an extra long time and a friend said, “All we need is ice cream truck music blaring over and over, and this would be my version of hell. Constantly walking up stairs for eternity with the same musical refrain blasting out of terrible speakers.”
Despite this, I think of my writing career journey as a really long staircase I can’t see the top of, and can no longer see the bottom of. There are lots of places along the staircase that stretch out into landings, some of them quite large with whole seating areas. It seems like maybe I skipped a few steps here or there, but generally it’s been one big, long, steep staircase.
I think I had this impulse when I was really starting out to seek out someone I perceived as being at the top of the staircase and asked them for a hand up. I didn’t understand that it’s hard for them to do much more than maybe shout down words of encouragement and that I’ll make it, I just have to keep climbing. I grumbled about how they weren’t really helping and if they’d just give me a hand up we’d get there a lot faster.
Then one day, someone sent an email asking for advice on how to get to where I was at the time. For me, it was a teenage boy in absolutely nowhere Australia, who emailed and asked for advice on his webcomic (I was writing one at the time). I don’t remember exactly what I said when I wrote back, but I think it was essentially “Just do it. I’m just a person, the artist and webmaster are just people. We just decided to do it, you can do it too.”
That’s how I realized that the people ahead of me on the staircase were just people too, they were still chasing the people they perceived to be ahead of them and most of them hadn’t the foggiest idea what to tell me that would actually help. All I could do was keep climbing those stairs.
It wasn’t until YEARS later that I realized what DOES help, is to talk to the people on the steps right around you. The ones in arm reach. The ones you can help up a rough patch in the steps or they can grab your arm if you trip. Actively participate in the conversation happening WHERE YOU ARE. Those are the people who will potentially continue to be on the same part of the staircase as you. Some of them will motivate you to keep climbing out of competition, some will motivate out of friendship. All of them are worth knowing, worth talking to. Some of them will stop climbing and some might be that incredibly fit person carrying a bike, but the ones that travel at roughly the same pace as you will support you in ways you or they can’t possibly imagine.
It isn’t a race. There might not even BE an end to the stairs, but the only way you can fall behind, is to stop climbing. If you keep talking to the people around you, it makes it a lot more difficult to imagine the ice cream truck music or at least organize a sing-a-long to drown it out.