Writing Tip #4 Perseverance

posted on: August 13, 2013

Love of writing propels  motivation, but sometimes enthusiasm fades. By its very nature the process of writing entails consistent application to complete a draft, edit, and marketing.   Each of these three different tasks requires determination, but our interest may vary. We shift into restlessness, doubt each word, question the entire project. Distractions beckon. We answer email, float around the internet, check sales on ebay or etsy.  Retweet  clever or uproarious lines.  The excitement, the initial dream of a project lies as a sad reminder on your computer.  Frustration from writus interruptus mounts. What happened to the dream you had for the work? It has sifted like sand through your fingers.

Here’s when perseverance rides to the rescue becoming one of our major tools.

“We are made to persist.
that’s how we find out who we are.”
 
 Tobias Wolff

 You have to believe that persistence pays off.  Let me convince you. The Christmas Cookie Club, which was translated into 6 languages and became an international best seller was heralded as my first novel.  But it wasn’t.  Four other novels hide in my computer. Yep. Four novels that found agents, but did not sell. Several times, I rewrote  to satisfy a potential editor, but wasn’t able to please enough. (Do they tell you those “if onlys” and “maybe ifs” to let you down easily, or to cover their asses because, in truth, they don’t know what will sell?) But I kept writing fiction. And Christmas Cookie Club hit a home run.

Another personal story of perseverance was on the part of my agent. My memoir, Infidelity, was rejected 38 times by various houses before it was published as a hardcover, sold for the second highest paperback that year,  nominated for the Pulitzer and National Book Award, and  made into a movie by Lionsgate.

The crucial drive of persistence is belief.   Do you believe you have something to say that resonates with others? Then you’re not insane to keep going. You’re not just giving yourself carpo tunnel syndrome and increasing your reputation for eccentricity. Continue to do what you love. Scott Turow got a MFA from Stanford, wrote 3 novels that he didn’t sell, and went to law school. On the commuter train to his job as an attorney, he wrote, Burden of Proof.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 
 Winston Churchill

 In between the editing stage and marketing, take  time to honor your accomplishment. You’ve put your soul and all your skill into it. Your finished work stands on it’s own. I’m not sure that The Christmas Cookie Club is a ‘better’ novel than the first 4. But an editor fell in love with it.  You have small control over the financial or critical rewards because they involve other’s behavior.

 Inside the Crips sold via a proposal.  When the work was half way completed, my co-author was arrested, and imprisoned. In the enormous adversity, I thought seriously of quitting, but we persisted in spite of enormous adversity. After I finished the last edit, I wrote my co-author that no matter what happens next, we can both feel enormous pride and satisfaction in our book.  Negative events occurred as a result of the publication. ( A summary on my webpage.)  But the book itself has been called the best gang memoir, and more importantly, has been used in schools and by the Canadian government to prevent gang violence.  Teenagers contact me to tell me how the book has changed lives.

 Here are some tricks to boost perseverance: 

Set small goals.  I sold Keep the Home Fires Burning on a proposal three weeks after giving birth.  I was overwhelmed until I figured out all I had to do was write 15 pages a week. That’s 3 pages a day. I  did that during my baby’s afternoon nap. If you write 400 words a day, at the end of a year you’ll have 100,000 words. Commit to write a specific amount of words, number of pages, or for a specific amount of time per day. Writing ebbs its way into being a crucial part of your day.

Use some of the same techniques when you’re marketing the book. Tweet, use FB pages, Goodreads etc, and specify how much time, or how many you’re going to do.

Writing Buddies: We need people to read our work and give feedback.  Become part of a writing workshop through a university, writer’ organizations, or form your own.   Hunt for someone with whom to share first drafts and exchange criticism and praise. Don’t forget, praise! Our own work sounds cliché after many readings.  Our buddies help us stay accountable to our own goals because we want to honor our commitment to our buddy. Set deadlines together.

 Reward yourself.  When you finish a chapter, and certainly when you finish a book, honor your creativity, talent, and perseverance.  Finishing a book is a remarkable achievement.  Take time to pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a present.

 Dream. Focus on a project where you imagine story, characters, and dialogue.  Enjoy the adventure of characters as they develop and twist the plot.  Bask in the pleasure the work provides, and the pride at a completed well-drawn work.  It’s the dream/fantasy about the work, the love part,that provides a reason.

Pleasure and excitement thrust trepidation, reluctance, and distractions to dark corners. Focus on joy because motivation makes perseverance easy.

Love fuels motivation. Skills and habits fuel perseverance.

 

 “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” 

 Isaac Asimov

This blog first appeared on Roy Huff’s wonderful webpage Owensage.com. and a piece that he wrote on the same subject appeared on my blog. Roy is the  author of bestselling young adult epic fantasy novel Everville: The First Pillar.

I lively discussion on both our blogs followed.  Here are the comments when this post was on his blog.  Have fun adding more!

Comments

06/11/2013 3:53am

Hi,
Thank you. You wrote directly to my heart. This is the stage that I am going through right now. My enthusiasm has faded even thought I know that I am a writer with something to say.

I have taken your suggestions and copied them into my journal and at this minute, I have decided to take hold and continue to follow through.

Once again, thank you.

Ciao,
Patricia

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06/11/2013 6:33am

I can’t tell how how thrilled I am to learn that. Please get back to me and tell me how they work for you. You may also check out my previous writing tips to help you get in that writing “zone/flow” on my blog.

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06/11/2013 9:36am

Hello Ann and Roy. Awesome post. it ties together with the cross post on Ann’s blog nicely. 🙂

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06/11/2013 10:24am

My motto: Perseverance + Humor = Published.
It certainly worked in my case 🙂

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06/11/2013 1:11pm

Your opening paragraph is a wake-up call. I thought you were looking back at me via your computer. That morning ritual of Twitter, Facebook, blogs instead of writing. I got caught! A great reminder to not only have the butt-in-chair, but fingers running through the word document on a more regular basis. Maybe I won’t have to stay up till 2:00 am. Wow. An enjoyable and knowledgeable post.

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06/11/2013 1:50pm

THANK YOU! Just what I needed.

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06/11/2013 2:25pm

Ann and Roy, your views on perseverance are models to be taken into account. Thank you for your clear thoughts and for your generosity to share. It took me years to beat impatience, and I had to learn the hard way 🙂 Every writer should have both articles glued to a wall right across from his/her writing table. Although your wise words apply to people in every walk of life, we writers tend to yield to feelings of frustration more than others, to procrastinate out of fear and, quite often, to create the obstacles about which we complain.

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06/11/2013 4:38pm

Perseverance is certainly the key. It’s easy to give up when things aren’t working out the way you planned. If you stick with it, things will eventually work out.

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Peter Prasad
06/11/2013 5:15pm

We writers face the blank white wall every morning. Funny thing is, given time, every possible in our world and other imagined worlds will show up to ask for editing and polishing. Only human beings have this capacity, so celebrate it.

And if a grumpy critic shows up, tell them to turn the page.

Thanks for the post. My spirit is heartened.

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06/11/2013 10:30pm

Keep at it. One day at a time. One word at a time. Still persevering. Amazing words and inspiration. 🙂

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06/14/2013 9:11am

I have had so much fun being a guest blogger on Roy’s page. Thanks to all of you for telling me about the impact of my thoughts on persistence and the importance of everybody, but especially for us writers. Let me know, please, how putting these ideas in action works for you! Ann

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