A popular post from February 2010
A friend of mine, J. Scott Savage, is doing a class on writing at a conference. I'm not exactly sure what his class will contain, but knowing him, the class will be twenty shades of amazing. I have an inkling of what he might say at this class because he posed a question to our online writer's group. The question was, "Could any of you who found success at the brink of giving up on writing e-mail me personally with your story or respond to the list?"
Finding success on the brink of giving up . . .
I know a lot of authors who've found success at nearly the same moment they decided to give up. Because at the same time they've given up, they also decided to give it one last push, to take one last step, to try one more time.
It's a strange place to be when you know you write well, you know you have talent, you've workshopped your manuscript and edited the thing until you could almost see your reflection in its polished shine, you know your story is sound, and yet the rejection letters keep rolling in. It's almost enough to make a writer more crazy than writers are prone to be naturally. It's almost enough to make us give up.
Madeleine L’Engle decided she was done writing. She had a couple of books published and then went nearly a decade of rejection after rejection. Throughout her thirties, no one seemed to want to publish what she wrote. She covered her typewriter and walked away in a huge show of renunciation. She wrung her hands and paced in circles and cried over her lost career. As she paced and cried, she realized that she already had a plot forming of a woman on the brink of giving up, but the story arc would be that the woman DIDN’T give up and finally succeeded. She realized that even the act of quitting brought plots and characters to her. She realized this wasn’t something she could just walk away from. She uncovered her typewriter, and went back to work. A couple of years later, she won the Newbery for A Wrinkle In Time.
Jessica Day George had many rejections. She had been to countless conferences and writing retreats and editor meetings in her attempts to break into a seemingly impossible market. The last conference she attended before getting a contract, she’d decided she’d had it. She told her husband that she was done—no more. He told her she had to finish the conference she was at because they’d already paid for it. The next day at the conference, she was at a critique group. Someone whispered over to her that they liked hers best and would she be interested in attending a by-invitation-only editor retreat. At that retreat, Jessica’s editor offered her a contract. Jessica had said that she was done and she’d meant it. She felt finished competing in a market she *knew* she was good enough to be part of, but that rejected her at every turn. If she hadn’t gone back to that conference, she wouldn’t have been invited to the editor’s retreat. If she hadn’t been at that retreat, she would have never been offered the contract that gave the rest of the world Jessica Day George. Jessica's newest book, Princess of Glass, comes out in May and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
For myself, it does seem that every time I think I’m done, something happens—even if it’s a little something. I think I’m done—I can’t go further in this maddening career choice, and I get a request for a partial manuscript. I think I’m done and I get a request for a full. I think I’m done and an agent says she’d like me to sign a contract. I think I’m done and my local publisher says they want another book. I think I’m done and SOMETHING happens to keep me in the game. Something happens that makes it impossible for me to walk away. And I finally realized that, like Madeleine, the stories won’t leave me alone just because I walk away from the computer. They’ll still be there, waiting for me to write them.
And *what if* the day you decide to quit, what if THAT day is like Jessica’s day—where there is only one more step to take to make it to the finish line?
You know you're good enough to compete, you've worked your manuscript, you've taken the pains and efforts to really learn how to write, you know you're good enough to play in the big sandbox called the national market. You just have to take one more step.
Well? What are you waiting for?
If anyone else has darkest before the dawn stories, feel free to leave them in the comments. We'd love to hear them.