Last week I blogged about my husband’s liberating writing advice exactly four years ago to “just start.” And start I did. During 2007, I wrote random chapters, first paragraphs of stories, essays–anything and everything.
Eventually the false starts got tiring. As a self-proclaimed new “writer” with no training whatsoever, I decided it was time for help. I enrolled in a twelve-week novel-writing course on Thursday nights while Bryan, apparently the perennial hero on this blog, watched the kids.
The instructor was generally hateful. He started each class with a writing exercise then asked each of us to read our paragraphs aloud. He despised everything. “Doesn’t work,” he’d say half-way through someone’s piece, or simply, “Nope.”
I didn’t mind the honest feedback, but he never once in twelve weeks heard something he liked from any of us. Even worse, after his disgust he’d share a page from one of his published novels to grace us with an example of what did work. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez he was not.) He spent the rest of the time reading directly from his notes about basic plot structure–information most of us had read two or three times already from James Scott Bell for $16.99. (Thank you, Mr. Bell.)
BUT THEN, during the final class, this otherwise discouraging instructor shared the most valuable writing advice I’ve heard since Bryan’s “just start.” And I’ve probably read every craft how-to out there, twice, so that’s saying a lot.
He said, [I’m paraphrasing] “Most of you in this room will never publish a word. You’ll give up. I’m no more talented than any of you or anyone else. I just work harder, that’s all.”
Holy crap life-changing aha/light-bulb moment or whatever Oprah would say. His words seem soul-sucking at first, but pay attention. “Work harder” was something we could at least control. There was no golden ticket to publication, but certainly without the strength to persevere we would fail. That message has kept me going ever since.
Some time later (probably a year and a half because I had another baby in there somewhere) I’d written two novels and even experienced some excellent request rates after querying one of them–though ultimately no agent. I’m downplaying the pain of that process. Trust me, it was excruciating. But I got through the disappointment, and I’m still in the game. Next time I query agents (I’m estimating two years from now or more) I’ll have several short story publications to mention in the “publishing history” paragraph I had to leave blank the first time around. Glass half full, people. Glass half full.
My friends and acquaintances who remember my boastful tales about “this agent” or “that one” reading my partial or full manuscript (oops, wouldn’t recommend all that sharing) will still sometimes rightfully wonder, “What ever happened to your book?” And I tell them in my most zen-like voice, “I didn’t work out. I tossed it. I’m writing something new.”
“How can you stand it?” I’m often asked.
I shrug. “This is how it works. It takes a long time.” And believe it or not, I’m at peace with that truth.
I won’t give up. I’ll just work harder, that’s all. NOW WHO’S WITH ME?