Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 06, 2006

One step at a time

By Jeffrey Savage (filling in for the illustrious Kerry Blair)

I’m not sure about chivalry, but how can you not say yes when sweet little Kerry asks you to write for her? Even if her blogs are so much better than mine. Alas and alack.

Anyway, last night I spoke to a ward book club that Julie so kindly invited me to. First of all let me say it was wonderful. Twenty plus people there, almost all of whom had read my book. Standing room only, because it was moved at the last minute to Julie’s house. Adorable babies crawling around and people who actually liked my first book (no they weren’t one and the same, Rob.) What more could a writer ask for? I even got e-mail questions from an ex-police officer who couldn’t make it. It felt like being on ESPN, “Jeff, a writer from Pleasant Grove asks why the police didn’t get a warrant when they arrested her.” “Well, Bob I’m glad you asked . . .”

One of the questions was asked by an older gentlemen in the room. He wanted to know if you got better the more you wrote. That is a question I’m not usually asked at these types of events, but one I almost always bring up in the writing classes I teach. I’d like to tie the answer to one of my heroes—a man who inspires me although I’ve never met him personally. His name is Peter Strudwick.

Peter was born in Germany shortly before WW2. When he came into the world, doctors discovered that both of his legs ended at the ankles and both of his hands were missing fingers. They suggested that his mother have him killed, because obviously he would never be of any use to anyone. Instead she fled to America.

Let’s fast forward over thirty years. What would you imagine Peter might be able to accomplish in life? Could he be a good father? Sure. A successful business man? Probably? Could he walk? I guess. Although he describes the effort as being like walking on coffee can stilts. There is no leverage because he has no feet.

But of course he would have limitations. Would you imagine that he could walk ½ a mile? A stretch. Could he run half a mile? Probably not. Ten miles? A marathon? Crazy right? Where do you draw the limit on what a person can accomplish? What if I told you that Peter not only ran a marathon, but that he ran dozens of marathons—including the Pikes Peak Marathon, the hardest of all marathons, four times.

Imagine that. A man with no feet even conceiving of running a marathon that goes thirteen miles and over 8,000 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak (14,000 plus feet) and then back down. And actually completing it four times! I don’t know about you, but it boggles my mind.

So how did he do it? Of course one step at a time. And honestly that’s what it’s all about with anything we try to accomplish in this life. I wrote a while back of the audacity it takes to write a book. But more accurately it is faith mixed with a little confidence. You have to trust that somewhere at the end of all the words is a completion to your book. When you write the first word, it feels infinitely far. At times you are sure you will fail. And it is quite possible you might. But if you persevere, eventually the conclusion comes into sight. And if you are very lucky you get to hold the finished product in your hands and wonder at its very existence.

Sometimes getting those first words onto the page is literal hell. Very much like the first running Peter did. He smoked and drank too much, was very out of shape, and collapsed several times just trying to go around the block. But somehow the next day, he went back at it. It was never easy early on, and even when it got easier, he could drop almost back to the beginning if he quite for a while. But ultimately he succeeded and became an inspiration to millions.

I don’t think I’ll ever have millions read my books, let alone be inspired by them. But I know that if I try to keep writing a little every day I will get better and it will get easier. I know that when I stop for weeks or even months, it’s hard to get going again. I know that at times it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done and at others time the words will literally flow off my fingertips.

Anything we try to do is like that. Reading the scriptures. Prayer. Being patient. They all take work. And they can all be accomplished one step at a time. So the only question is one from an old Microsoft commercial. “Where do you want to go today?”


At 10/07/2006 12:23 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jeff, you did an amazing job last night (thanks again) and I've been getting e-mails all day on how approachable you were and what a great time we all had. Everyone is trying to get their hands on a copy of Dead on Arrival. I started it myself last night and I'm blown away by how good this book is. Spooky, mind-boggling, can't figure it out, must keep reading, good. In fact, I'm going to go read the rest of it!

At 10/07/2006 10:38 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Jeffrey Savage, if millions of people don't read your books one day I will eat my copy of Dead on Arrival.

Thanks for the blog. It's fantabulous. Just what I needed right now.

At 10/07/2006 4:31 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Great blog, Jeff. You've inspired me with your rah rah about writing every day. Even though I know when I stop it's harder to get going again, I let life intrude, and that's not good. Thanks again. I'm going to eat lunch before my stomach rumblings scare all the customers, then I'm going to plug in my flash drive and start writing again.

Thanks again!
Marsha Ward
Writer in the Pines

At 10/07/2006 9:45 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Jeff, once more I'm at that "the first step is too hard stage." I go through this every time I complete one book and know I need to get started on the next one. Every word you wrote is right on and I know very well that if I don't start, I won't finish--but today I can't do it. Maybe Monday. Today, I'm just going to curl up with a book I don't have to consider reviewing, take a bubble bath, and go to bed early. By next week--or the week after--I'll be doing just as you said,one step every day until the journey is done. It really is the only way to write a whole book.


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