Choices. Comedian Buddy Hackett once said this: “As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” Choice sounds so easy, but the truth is, making the right choices is anything but easy. Ask my friend Ron James. He made the choice to write a book called Choices, which is in final production right now.
There’s an irony regarding the fact that Ron wrote a book about choices. One of the choices we can choose to make is to write a book. As a matter of fact, I would venture to guess that more than 100 people have approached me in my career, telling me of their dreams to write a book, and asking me for advice. The truth is, writing a book is something anyone can do. It comes down to following a process, and making the choice to do it. To help those I mentor, one of the first things I send them is a quote I ask to be placed on a wall where he or she can see it every day. It goes like this:
Planning to write is not writing.
Thinking about writing is not writing.
Talking about writing is not writing.
Researching and outlining to write is not writing.
None of this is writing.
Writing is writing.
Most don’t follow through, but Ron James made a different choice. He chose to put that poem up on his wall, stay true to his dream, tell his story, and write his book… from his prison cell. He did not have the luxury of sitting in front of a computer, setting up files, and manipulating the text as he went along. Ron James was given paper and a pen, and he began to write; oh, did this man write! Ten pages grew to twenty, twenty grew to fifty, and then to one hundred pages. Then two hundred, then three hundred, then five hundred, and then a thousand pages.
Finally, I received a letter from Ron telling me he had finished the first draft of his book. Apparently, he went through plenty of pens, and he used up a whole lot of paper because his first draft was exactly 1,825 pages long. When I begrudgingly informed Ron that he would have to shorten this a bit, he made another choice. He chose to keep working, and he edited that hand written manuscript. For most who write, editing means copying and pasting, and moving text around here and there on a computer screen. For Ron, it meant studying what he had written, and writing it again. Then he rewrote it again, and finally, he trimmed it down to a mere 538 pages. I should know; he mailed it to me, and when I need to be inspired, I look at it. I don’t just think about the text in hand; I think about the over 3,000 handwritten pages of self-discovery Ron worked through to get to this point.
Clearly, Ron James made a choice to grind, and work, and not give up because he had a story he wanted others to hear. In fact, he has created a powerful description of the decades of life choices he has made: Some good, and some not so good, and the consequences that came with those choices. He lived those choices, and throughout his twenty years of incarceration, he had a front row seat, allowing him to view the impact of these choices. Now, having served his time, his sincere passion is to help others by teaching what he has learned.
In searching for the meaning in the choices he has made, he has evolved from a man of thought to a man of action. In searching for the meaning in his life, he made a choice to become a man of faith and to work hard to be a better man each and every day. In searching for a way to help others, he made the choice to chronicle these choices. He didn’t do this because he wanted to unburden his soul; he did it because he wanted to help others learn from these choices.
Poet George Herbert once wrote this: “The shortest answer is doing.” In a prison cell, with pen and paper in hand, Ron went beyond the dream of writing a book, to doing it, and helping others to learn from the choices he made. In doing so, he reminded us all of this simple, but important message: If you can dream it, you can do it. What have you been dreaming about lately?