The Man in the Arena

On Instagram yesterday, my sister-in-law Darcie posted a rather powerful excerpt from a speech given by United States President Theodore Roosevelt nearly 110 years ago. The excerpt, called “The Man in the Arena”, is part of a larger speech the former President gave in Paris on April 23, 1910, called “Citizenship in a Republic“. This famous section goes:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

President Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, on April 23, 1910

This quote was what I really needed yesterday.

I have been making great progress on merging the different parts of the various versions of the first section of the novel I am working on together, plus adding some new chapters in there as well to help “flesh out” the story. Again, I sometimes face emotional exhaustion or flatness after a few good days of creativity, or if something causing me a great deal of anxiety has consumed me for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Right now, I’m content that I’m up to around 40 pages and 9,000 words into this draft of this novel, and that’s without a large section from a previous draft added in. My mind seems to be creatively engaged again: thinking about the bigger picture, then the smaller scenes I want to work on. Trying very hard to make it all manageable so it doesn’t become too overwhelming.

Yesterday, after spending time at our neighbor’s house trying to help her with some problems she was having, and then doing some other chores around the house, I sat down at my iMac to write.

I struggled to manage a few paragraphs.

In the days prior, when I would find myself in this sort of hesitant moment, I switched to research mode. Brain stuck in logic gear? Research! And, for the most part, that has worked. Getting some inspiration from research — and that can be anything from the weather conditions on the day I’m writing about to in-depth research on specifics about a certain historical day — seemed to throw me back into my writing without a problem.

And when I say writing, I need to emphasize that I am cranking out sentences and actions and dialogue very, very, very roughly to get them down. I’ll revise them later. So, no, you can’t read any of it yet.

Yesterday, none of that was working. I sat and stared at the screen. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

I gave up and made myself lunch. Did a little work. Walked to the supermarket to get rid of the cobwebs. Did more work. And that was about it.

I felt frustrated.

But then I saw this quote. It made me realize:

  • I am working on this piece. It is my goal, my ambition, and instead of sitting on the sidelines of my life making grandiose plans about making it the perfect novel (which realistically it can never be) and planning it out to within an inch of its life, I am writing, writing, researching, writing, and getting it down on paper so I have a framework to hone in the future.
  • Even if I come out of this experience now with a sub-par piece of work, I can be proud that I completed something and keep honing it to make it even better and to a standard I am happy with.
  • Life is short. Yesterday, my neighbor and I were talking about this very thing. One day at a time, she said, and yes, I agree with that, but also life is very short, and I’d rather dare and challenge myself now to do things outside my comfort zone instead of sitting on my death bed, wondering, “What if I had…” instead. I’ve done enough of that in my life, and I need to stop doing it so much.
  • I don’t want to be a person in that safe zone where, “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” reside. I need to work against the grain and, despite what feels like what might be set-backs (whether those are internal or external), keep working as hard as I can. Success or failure, whatever may come. As I said to someone once (the context is a subject for another blog entry), “I want to release my work into the world. It might be excellent. It might be crap. But it will be my crap.”

The Man in the Arena.

I want to be the Man in the Arena.

I need to be the Man in the Arena.

I am the Man in the Arena.