I'm notorious among my school's guidance counselors for being a "hard" teacher. More than once, I've received reports back from students and staff that one of the counselors has commented about the difficulty of my Advanced Placement classes or the amount of work I expect in my inclusion classes. I'm the catcher of plagiarism (yes, it happens in mathematics) and the upholder of responsibility. There's even rumor that I'm not allowed to teach freshman honors geometry anymore because I'm "too tough."
I won't comment if there's any truth behind that rumor, but I will say that on more than one occasion I said to my honors geometry or AP students, "Sometimes effort is not enough." This was usually my response to some student approaching me to ask why she got a certain grade. "But I tried really hard," she would say. She'd leave my office feeling I was calloused, and I would leave it hoping that in five or ten years she would understand the damned life lesson (and praying it would be a lesson--who am I to know for certain?).
The truth is, sometimes your best isn't good enough. When the lifeguard says, "But I tried really hard and spent a really long time swimming to save you," but that lifeguard didn't make it there in time, it's not good enough. And sometimes, after you've given your best, you have to give more. You have to be better. You have to be stronger. Even when there's nothing more to give, you have to find it in yourself. Sometimes you can't, but you don't know you can't unless you try.
That's where I am with writing right now. I'm working on my fifth draft of LitD, editing line by line and word by word. Sometimes, I spend twenty minutes just trying to find the right word. Should it be "promise" or "say?" And I'll cross it out a million times and rewrite it a million times, only to become frustrated with my lack of ability. It doesn't matter how much effort I put into that one word; if I'm not a strong enough swimmer, there is no way I can reach the person drowning, and it's not going to mean anything in the end.
Maybe I can console myself with saying the current was too strong that day. After all, it doesn't matter how brilliant LitD might be if it's not something that interests agents or publishers. Maybe I can console myself with lifeguarding in a pool instead of the ocean. After all, it's a heck of a lot easier to get published if I self-publish, right?
Or maybe, I can keep swimming. I can make myself a better writer. I don't need to be a hero. I just need to be excited, because no matter how many books there are out there, I'm the only person who's written mine. Yeah, there are a lot of people who say they could write a book, but how many of them actually have?
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put it more effort. This is my pep talk to myself. What's yours?