Picture it: I’m in ninth grade, 13 years old. I’m a freshman in high school, one of the worst times of anyone’s adolescent life, I’d wager. I’m wearing a school-issued heavy black swimsuit that seems to be made of something between quilting fabric and a wetsuit. It’s too big, so a long piece of yarn ties the two shoulder straps together in back to keep it from sliding off. I’m standing on the pool deck, and I can’t swim.
My school district taught swimming in third grade and ninth both, presumably in case it didn’t take the first time, which was exactly the case with me. I made up my mind to try really hard that year. Why, exactly? Maybe it was my pathological nerd-based need to get an “A” in everything. Maybe I felt foolish about still having to wear arm swimmies for any water over four feet deep.
By the end, I could only manage an awkward, head-out-of-water crawl stroke, a breaststroke that lasted only for the few seconds I could hold my breath, and a tipsy, flailing backstroke. But at least that last one allowed me to breathe. I never mastered the art of breathing and swimming at once.
So I made it my goal to achieve the “A” in swimming by passing the test; swimming a certain number of laps in the deep end in a certain time. I don’t know what the numbers were, but it was a generous allotment. Other students would time us on the honor system. As I splashed in – sharing my lane with two other normal swimmers – I raced off as fast as I could flail.
My curiosity got the best of me partway through, and I stopped at the end of the lane, in front of the girls timing me. After all, I didn’t have a Phelps-style flip-turn-dolphin kick in my repetoire anyway. “How am I doing?” I gasped. “GO!” they shrieked. “JUST GO!”
So I went faster. Well, I probably went slower because I was tired, but maybe I slowed down less dramatically. And then I heard the ending whistle…as I was one stroke away from the end. I failed. If I hadn’t stopped to check my time, I would have passed.
Our swimming teacher refused to grant an exception, despite our pleas, and I wasn’t mad at him. I could see that it pained him as he stuck to the rules of fair play as a good gym teacher should. And I’m happy to report I survived the A-.
Here’s the tortured analogy I’ll draw to publishing, though. In this business there’s a great temptation to constantly measure our progress. How many requests for material versus how many queries? How long did our submission process take? How big is our print run? How many reviews do we have? And … heaven help us … what’s our Amazon ranking?
I suggest that in publishing, or any passionate endeavor, we all bear in mind what I learned that day at 13 years old: GO. JUST GO.