I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about how we only get about 10% of any one person’s story. We see only the parts they are willing to share–the happy parts, mostly. We shield others from our heartaches. If we do share, we share a small sliver. For example: On Facebook, which I consider an exaggerated highlights reel of people’s lives, you see a friend get an amazingly good job, or have a baby, or whatever, and maybe you think, “They have all the luck.” The truth may involve months of unemployment, or a devastating miscarriage, or whatever, but we don’t know any of that.
In the writing world, it’s easy to envy writers who SEEM to have found success easily. From an outside perspective, it appears that–BAM!–they got a book–their very first book!–on the best seller list. But, usually, there’s a long story leading up to that moment. It’s rare for it to just magically…happen. I’ve come to assume all of us–writers and non-writers–struggle in different ways.
Most writers are like me–stubborn and persistent. Most of us have dealt with A LOT of rejection. I have a book coming out in early 2016, but it’s not my first book. It’s not even my second. It’s my…sixth? Seventh? I’ve kind of lost count. I’ve been writing novels since I was 20, so 15 years. The agent I have now isn’t my first. I’ve had 2 before. There were several times I wanted to give up. Several.
Author/editor/writing teacher Jordan Rosenfeld wrote a book called A Writer’s Guide to Persistence which is for any writer who has dealt with obstacles on the journey to publication–which I’d venture to say is 99% of writers. She says:
“The only successful strategy I’ve ever seen work for writers to achieve their writing and publishing goals is persistence. And what, precisely is persistence? Is it something you’re born with, a gene that switches on as soon as you take your first English class? Of course not. Persistence is an attitude of flexibility and curiosity, rooted in passion or love for your craft, bolstered by treating your entire writing journey as a practice. In a practice, you are working a little bit every day (and sometimes a lot), and you focus on the moment more than the end goal.”
These are her 7 secrets of highly persistent writers, as shared with Writer Unboxed:
1. Forget About Success: The most persistent writers want success as much as anyone, but they treat it as an end goal and put their focus on doing the work itself. It’s easy to be lured by that siren song of potential fame and fortune our society dangles before anyone in the creative arts, but so few realize right away. Ironically, the most successful writers are often the ones who think the least about success and focus on the daily practice of pen (or keyboard) to page.
2. Never Wait in Vain: Waiting for a publication, a publisher, or agent to get back to you can be agonizing. Persistent writers don’t just wait; they keep writing and submitting in equal measure. The more your focus is on what you’re producing, and not checking the email or snail-mail box, the more good writing you’ll eventually get done.
3. Take Risks: All writers have a comfort zone, be it genre or topic, or a certain kind of character. There’s nothing wrong with writing from your wheelhouse. But there’s great power in exploring the unknown, a territory of almost alchemical possibilities for expanding your own skills, or going somewhere surprising in your work. This can be trying your hand at an essay when you’ve always written stories, or finally writing those deep, painful stories. You want to take healthy risks, those that expand and stretch you, not discourage and thwart you. Go where you feel electricity, energy, desire, and trust yourself to rise to the occasion.
4. Collaborate: Persistent writers accept that we need other writers—be it for cheerleading, or resource sharing, feedback or commiseration. Writing is often a lonely art and it’s easy to listen to the critical voices in your own head. Don’t forget to call on the writers in your cohort to help you up out of the ditch of despair or brainstorm, or offer you feedback you know you can trust.
5. Set boundaries: Persistent writers have to say no a lot. They say no to allowing interruptions to their writing time; to letting the wrong people read their work; to social activities in favor of writing time. They learn to treat writing time as work time.
6. Take Side-Doors and Back-Alleys: Some of the most persistent writers I know did not listen to only accepted advice. I know writers who sold books straight to publishers without an agent. Those who self-published first and caught the attention of a big publisher. Those who freelance wrote for local publications and worked their way up to big publications bit by bit. If you only take a proscribed path, you’ll only have one set of experiences; make your own path and find your own version of success.
7. Plant a Passion Root: I saved the best and most important piece of advice for last. You will persist if you plant what I call a “passion root.” If you’ve ever tried to take out a rose bush, you know that their roots are impossibly deep and indestructible and they will come back to life even after being cut down to the nub. Plant your own roots of purpose deep in the ground of meaning. Something drives you to write, brings you back to it when it’s hard, makes the challenges worthwhile, but it probably gets lost in the critical voices, the difficult days, after rejection, etc. Your passion root can be something such as: writing gives you a voice when you never had one; you feel you’re making a contribution to the world or a certain cause through writing; you feel most alive when you write. It doesn’t matter if your passion is a means to a financial end or just your deepest desire. Following what you love most about writing will help you stick to it through all the hardships.
I would like to give a solid AMEN to #5. I’m constantly struggling with setting boundaries–feeling guilty when I do and guilty when I don’t. Thanks to Jordan Rosenfeld for these tips!