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Concentrate on progress, not outward signs of success

June 9, 2013

Anne Lamott posted a long entry on her Facebook page that was marbled with incredible wisdom. Stuff like

You can’t achieve, lease, buy or date what you are looking for. Nothing out there will fill the holes inside you.


The world does not have it to give. But we do. This is going to be a magical day.


Discipline is the path to freedom…Discipline frees our spirits.

But the part that jumped out at me was this…

I am watching a couple of dear friends on book tour, who are with major publishing houses, who are every unpublished writer’s dream come true– earlier books that became best sellers, big reviews, loyal followers. Their books are the best work of their lives, major accomplishments, and yet, did not quite take off.

So my writer friends’s hearts are heavy and they have been made to feel sort of like–failures. That’s really the word, and they really have. It’s so crazy! Beautiful books by highly regarded artists–it’s all hopeless. It’s Glengarry Glen Ross out there. Coffee is for closers!

Ain’t that always the way? I ran nine miles yesterday. To put that in context, I ran nine miles. In June. When it was hot and humid out. And I had gas left in the tank. But I stopped because my left foot hurt and it was more important to be able to work out today than it was to attain my goal of twelve miles yesterday.

But I still felt like a failure. Twelve miles was the goal–and attainable goal, I was sure. I still had a strong pace when I finally stopped. But I fell short of my goal. No excuses, sir.

There was a day when if I’d run four-and-a-half miles, I’d have jumped for joy (well, maybe not jumped; I wasn’t in very good shape at the time and my legs would have been wobbly). And the most I’ve ever run in the heat in Florida was nine miles, and that was once last fall before the weather turned. Nine miles by any measure is a success.

Except I ran eleven last weekend. And my goal is to run fifteen while I’m in upstate New York for a couple weeks.

It’s the same thing as Ms. Lamott’s friends, and that’s why it’s important how you measure. As I write this, I’m not a finalist for the RPLA. I was sure I was going to be a finalist this year. One of the short stories I submitted is the best thing I’ve ever written. The best. And that’s not just my opinion.

For whatever reason, it didn’t strike the judges’ fancy. It took me a while to get past being annoyed by that.

But I’m a better writer than I was six months ago. And I was better six months ago than a year ago. And better than two years ago. And so forth.

And the book isn’t finished yet. Maybe this year’s disappointment is next year’s major breakthrough. Maybe I’m the next overnight success story.

It could happen. And it could happen to you, too.

But you can’t stop. Disappointment is a building block, not an end result.

Now go write something.


  1. June 9, 2013 6:56 pm

    I subscribe to her Facebook posts and just finished reading this one. Thanks for adding it to you blog. She has so much to teach us.

  2. June 9, 2013 7:56 pm

    Anne Lamott, this quote is a keeper! “You can’t achieve, lease, buy or date what you are looking for. Nothing out there will fill the holes inside you.” Thanks for bringing it to my attention along with the rest of the piece.

  3. June 10, 2013 4:27 am

    Thanks Chris

    I needed this!
    There’s something better our there. Stay focused as you have been. It’s gonna happen.
    Jaclyn Grayson

  4. June 10, 2013 5:16 pm

    There’s truth to enjoying the journey and not being obsessed with the end result. The journey/the run, while difficult, is the ultimate goal. I know this is true for me because when I finish writing a book or a story/when I finish a run, I give myself about 30 seconds to enjoy the accomplishment. Then, I start thinking about the next book/the next run. Keep enjoying the journey, Chris. You are an awesome man/writer/runner/friend.

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