There’s so much advice out there for writers, that someone who doesn’t know much about writing might think that writing should now be easy. We writers know that this is, of course, nonsense. Writing is hard work, and writing well is really hard work. It always has been, it always will be, no matter how much advice there is on offer.
Because of this, those of us who are serious about writing have to cultivate some personal qualities so that we can keep going and retain the determination to achieve the best we can. The most important ones are: perseverance, humility, and imagination. In this blog I want to look at the first of these qualities.
Perhaps this quality of perseverance is most needed when we start on a manuscript. The plain page that greets us at the beginning of a project presents a significant psychological barrier, it is perseverance that will help us to conquer it.
Certainly that was the opinion of one of the ‘hard men’ of writing – Ernest Hemmingway. When asked what the most frightening thing he ever encountered was, he answered:
“A blank sheet of paper.”
As writers we must face the blank sheet and start writing, and keep writing. Everything in life will try to stop us, our own indiscipline of course, but also really, really good reasons like going to work to earn money, and seeing our family, and that fact that sometimes we need to eat and sleep. But unless you relentlessly carve out time and space, you will start and never complete.
And we need that perseverance even when we’ve finished the manuscript and we’re ready to present it to someone who might be interested in it; maybe an agent or maybe a publisher.
Talking about her experience of trying to get an agent for her work, J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series said this:
“I wrote nearly every evening, then typed the whole thing out myself on an old manual typewriter, covered the first three chapters in a nice plastic folder and sent them off to an agent. They were returned so fast, they must have been sent back the same day they arrived. But at the second attempt, Christopher Little wrote back asking to see the rest of the manuscript. It was far and away the best letter I had ever received in my life – and it was only two sentences long.”
That agent, Christopher Little then tried to sell the book to a publisher. He received either nine or twelve rejections (depending on who you believe) before the book was eventually accepted by the publishers, Bloomsbury.
Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series was rejected fourteen times before a publisher took it up. Sales of the series are now in excess of 120m. Audrey Niffeneger’s classic supernatural tale The Time Traveller’s Wife was rejected twenty five times before a publisher took it on. It has sold in excess of seven million copies and been made into a film.
All of these writers needed perseverance to keep writing, and then keep believing in their work, and to keep sending it to agents and publishers. That determination has to come from within us, because when we start out, no one is going to make us write, and no one is going to pay us for something we haven’t created, in fact they probably won’t pay us for something we have created either(!) But still we write.
So perseverance is key. Writing is a jealous mistress, she will not yield any benefits unless you give extravagantly of your mind and your time. So if you think you might like to write, but your heart is not really in it, stop and do something else – really. Try something less demanding, like lion taming.
But if you just can’t help yourself, and you have to write, be aware that above all, you’ll need to persevere.
© 2015 Andrew J Chamberlain
Andrew J Chamberlain is a writer, speaker, and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt a podcast that offers practical, accessible advice on the craft. Andrew has worked on a number of ghost-writing collaborations for Authentic Media, including the bestselling ‘Once an Addict’ with Barry Woodward. He has also self-published a number of science fiction short stories. Andrew will be speaking at the First Page Writing Course this November in Cumbria, England.
Part 2 of this series is titled: Humility. Don’t miss part 2 of this series here on SolaFide next Friday, June 26, 2015.