I thought I’d talk today about perseverance.
They say success in this business is 1% talent and 99% perseverance, so it must be pretty important stuff.
But what is perseverance? The dictionary defines it as: “Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”
That definition pretty much sums up my own journey to publication. It took me almost eleven years to sell my “first” novel. And my first was really my eighth. Along the way, I was lucky enough to have three terrific agents, and fifteen editors who wanted to make offers on one or the other of five novels submitted.
Whenever I reveal these numbers, I get met with a range of responses. Some writers don’t want to hear them. And I don’t blame them a bit. Writing even one novel is hard. Really hard. During that process, the prospect of doing it again, and again, and again and again and again (you get the idea), before ever getting published is not a pleasant one.
I felt the same way. When I had just finished my first novel and was sending out queries to agents, my mom had one of those mother-is-always-right moments, though neither of us knew it then.
“I think you’re going to make it,” she said. “You’ve been a storyteller from the time you could talk. You have stories in your soul.” (I may be making my mom a tad more poetic than she was). “But I think it will take a long time,” she went on. “Whoopi Goldberg says every overnight sensation is ten years in the making.”
Well, I’m not a sensation, but my mom was only off by a few months.
Other writers hear those numbers and seem to relate. They say things like, “It took me nine years,” or, “My tenth novel is the one that sold.”
Now the publishing world has changed, of course. You no longer have to follow the traditional path to publication, which does tend to take a chunk of time and a closetful of manuscripts, except possibly for a few lucky writers.
But I still think perseverance is just as key.
It takes perseverance to write a novel. And to perfect it. Whether published by a major house, a smaller one, or independently, the author may come to realize that his or her first novel shouldn’t be the one to come out. We all have manuscripts in a drawer, and those stories took a bit of life blood as they were written.
Whichever novel does come out, it takes perseverance to market it and build a readership.
Perseverance to sit back down in that chair and start all over again, when the possibility of success—success being typing those two words, the and end—is far from certain.
So how do we acquire that persistence? What separates the talented writers who stop writing from the talented ones who don’t?
I think that the writers who wind up doing this seriously—whether that means making money at it, or continuing to produce story after story that gets better and better—are able to block out almost everything I’ve said in this post, lost in their own fictive dream.
The power of that story is so fierce that it needs to come out, and then it needs to find readers.
Perseverance will come—if you are meant to be doing this, it will find you. Perseverance is the gift that accompanies a story that needs to be told.
For more about Jenny, visit her website. Her debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, will be published by Ballantine in early 2013.
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