Writing Tip #4 Perseverance
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.”
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!