Persistence for Dummies

I went back to Whidbey Island yesterday to hear Corbin Lewars give a presentation: How to Persevere with Your Writing. One could argue that driving four hours round-trip was in and of itself “perseverance,” so why even drive out there? But then if one didn’t go, then they wouldn’t exactly be persevering and well, I think I just found a paradox. Or an alignment of truth. Whatever. I only passed that logic class in college because the TA took a shine to me, I’m sure, because there is no way that 50 points on each exam equals a C.

She said a lot of the same things I’ve heard since I reignited my foray into creative writing, and for which at this point, I have some neurotic response, namely:

  • Don’t take rejections personally—oh, I don’t, especially when they use a form letter. Then I really know none of it is about me. But I also think that a little personalizing can be helpful to keep me from thinking I’m a cog in a machine of literary craptastic-ness.
  • Make sure you always have something out for submission—this is great advice, and not just because it helps keep the rejections coming in. It’s almost like a way of measuring time.
  • Even famous authors have been rejected—yes, we’ve all heard the story about how Kurt Vonnegut was told to stop writing by some visionless publication professional, and how Stephen King collected his rejection letters on a spike in his bedroom. To which I say: of course he had a spike in his bedroom. It’s one thing to collect paper when it is mailed to you, but it’s bordering on wacky when one has to print out an email just to deface the still-drying ink.
  • It’s not the rejection that kills writing, it’s the giving up of hope, so don’t give up hope—I appreciate this comment, really. She’s right. But hello, rejections do nothing for my hope levels! I think I’m better off responding to rejection letters in some other, positive way, than just trying to shirk them off.

While I was there I had the opportunity to talk again with the agency that most recently rejected my memoir project, though I got to the full manuscript phase with them. I found out that the assistant who emailed me spent half an hour crafting the rejection itself, and this simple knowledge really meant a lot to me. It meant they cared about not crushing my soul into a tiny ball of pain. The letter itself requested I submit my next novel project to them, so I’d understood that intellectually already. But the emotional side, that they liked my work enough to fret over how to word their departure, that has an echo to my tired ears.

A lot of this is attitude, I get that. I can exalt that I got a short story into a journal, or I can lament that it’s not a periodical that pays its contributors. Why would I focus on anything other than the excitement of getting chosen and included among other strong pieces? But writers sell themselves short every day. Oh, this doesn’t have a big circulation. Or this was a good publication ten years ago. Or focusing on which “tier” is publishing a work. It doesn’t ultimately matter.

When Sherman Alexie came to Walla Walla last spring, he told a story about when he came home to find a message on his voicemail from the New York Times Magazine saying they’d accepted a story of his for publication. He did a dance of joy next to the machine. This tale of his, as he told it, wasn’t about this victory, but it illustrates that to have that level of glee, he had surely faced defeat on a regular basis prior to that moment. Easy wins don’t generate that kind of triumph. It was a moment I’ve thought about in the months since I heard it and I wish we focused on it more as unpublished writers: when it happens, acceptance is undiluted, sweet, soul-filling.

I admit that I went to the status indicator page for the journal that accepted my story just so I could revel a little in the bright green “Accepted” hovering on the screen. And I read the email from the editor four or five times, possibly more. And then I went back to writing, not only because I enjoyed the feeling of acceptance, but because I have so many other projects that need attention.

For one, I need to send back my memoir to the agency that said no, because they want to take another look at it once I’ve gotten it down to 75,000 words. It’s only persistence that led them to say that, too. Pushing through rejection really does mean growth. Thanks, Ms. Lewars, for reminding us.

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10 Comments on “Persistence for Dummies”

  1. September 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Whoohoo! They want to see it again! *Happy Dance!*

    • evmaroon
      September 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

      I know, right? I find it much easier to cut words out than build it up, so hopefully I’ll have some time to get it ready for them in the next month. How are your revisions going, meanwhile?

    • September 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

      Hi I subscribed to your blog the other day after reading your last post. It’s true what you say, all writers crave acceptance, I’m glad that you are continuing being persistant. They want to see it again- how cool is that! You go girl ;o)

      • evmaroon
        September 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

        Thanks, I do think keeping one’s head down, pushing forward is critical in all of this. I only appreciate the girl power from the boy’s entrance to the playground, though. 😉 LOL

      • September 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

        okay shoot me now so I’ll die slowly, where is the ground to swallow me whole? Erm if I said that was slang for a great job in the U.K would you buy it ? Am silently biting my nails right now hoping you believe me…..

  2. evmaroon
    September 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    @Re Gypsy: No worries! You really made my afternoon, and reminded me never to take any of this too seriously. I always love a good chuckle!

  3. Nora Mae Smith
    September 9, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Writing has become the challenge of a life time ! The challenge of making that time become the riches we hope for! I know I have a dream of it as well…. its actually doing it with every thing else in life that needs done too!
    My life as it is …. is a full plate … kids, house , yard, neighbors, friends, church, health, clubs etc…. just when do we all have more time to do what we really love late at night while we are sleeping the ideas boom in our heads some so loudly they feel as if our heads will require some medical miracle!

    I am sure you will find a place to make things flow loads of ink or type which ever you choose!

    • evmaroon
      September 10, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

      Writing is a challenge, it’s true, but it’s so satisfying that I seem to keep doing it. And I write this after getting two rejections this morning. I’ll take those as a sign that I’m putting myself out there.

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  1. Quality Control for the Short Story | Trans/plant/portation - May 3, 2011

    […] in terms of how to handle it (read: don’t take it personally) and what to do in its wake (submit again). Stories, however, need to be as polished as possible without reaching into the universe of […]

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