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Staying Power

I’ve been writing something; a diary/journal, essay, short stories, research paper,  (for myself and others) for decades.  After high school and college, I always gravitated toward professions — for the most part — that required a good deal of writing and tapping away on a typewriter (those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s kind of like a computer but without a screen and access to the entire world :)), and then a computer.

From the first receptionist job I took at a Pennsylvania factory (I wanted to hang out in the factory and make things, but the German woman who interviewed me said, “No!  You look like you need to be out front, not in the back!) at the tender age of nineteen, I was stringing words together professionally; letters to vendors, employees, “inter-office” memos and such.  That led to other writerly type jobs and in-between all that busyness of working, making money and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t know, but world-famous author is at the top of my list) I’d write fiction.  I read through some of that earlier writing and shudder, thinking — wow, that’s really bad.  But, they give me ideas now, so it wasn’t all for naught.

I tend to do things backwards, getting my degree in my 30s instead of going straight out of high school, to what I do now, freelance writing in crazy busy spurts to tiny, little drips where I have loads of time to go back to my novel that I’ve yet to finish.

And, there it is.  I’ve not finished my book…I let other things get in the way and there’s always an excuse.  A job to finish, a move to make, a class to take — if you’re a writer, you know exactly what I mean.  Sometimes, I wonder if I’m just fooling myself and maybe I’m not a “real” writer, I just want to be one.

In Anne Lamontt’s book, bird by bird (a great read, I highly recommend picking up a copy, I just did myself and am currently reading), she says that her students, before they’ve finished their book want to know how to get an agent.  She tells them (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when the time comes, you can find an agent, but you first have to get down to the business of writing.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve asked that same question — in creative writing classes I’ve taken — how do you find an agent?  I’ve stopped now because unless I have my big, meaty novel finished, what difference does it make?

If I finish it, they will come.  (I hope, I hope, I hope…).

Great Writers with Staying Power 

Stephen King started writing Carrie when he was teaching English for $6,400 a year and working at a laundromat to make ends meet.  He was paid $200K when Doubleday accepted it, an enormous amount at that time in the 1970s.  But, before he ever got there, he had tons of rejections and lots of ideas, many of which turned into best-selling short stories and novels.

John Grisham was a lawyer in Mississippi and worked sixty to seventy hour work weeks (reportedly getting up at five a.m. before going to work) to write A Time to Kill, which received a lukewarm response when it was published when he was twenty-nine.  His next book, The Firm was the best-selling novel in 1991.  To date, there are over 275 million of his books worldwide translated into 40 languages.

Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t get anyone interested in publishing her work until she was in her 50s.  Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was published when he was forty-four.  Although Elizabeth Gilbert had published a few books before Eat, Pray, Love it was this book that put her on the publishing map.

The all-time example of staying power?  Toyo Shibata, who at 99, published a book of poetry (Kujikenaide, translates to Don’t Lose Heart) that has sold 1.5 million copies since 2009.   She began writing at 92 and plans to finish another by the time she’s 100 which is June of this year.

What all of these creative masters have in common is certainly not overnight success — it seems so because we don’t know what they went through to get to where they are and didn’t hear about them before they became famous — they stuck with it.

Inspiration from Those Who’ve Been There

“I wish I had a secret I could let you in on. . .but I don’t.  All I know is the process is pretty much the same for everyone I know.”   –from bird by bird by Anne Lamott

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we?  There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky. . .”  –from On Writing by Stephen King

“Find a subject you care about.  Do not ramble, though. Keep it simple.  Have the guts to cut.  Sound like yourself.  Say what you mean to say.  Pity the readers.”  –from Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut

“I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.”  –John Steinbeck

Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.  –Margaret Atwood

What I did have, which others perhaps didn’t, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.”  –Doris Lessing

And, I’ll end this now with the wise words of the nearly-centarian poet Toyo Shibata, “Don’t Lose Heart.”

About Brigitte



6 thoughts on “Staying Power

  1. Very eery. I just wrote a posting (didn’t publish it, tho) that almost exactly matches the first half of this posting. You and I had very similar paths, including the writing tendencies and the earning of a degree in our 30s, and judging from your posting, our thoughts seemed to also be very much in line this week.

    I appreciate the motivational second half of this article. It’s so easy to lose heart and confidence. I wish there were a better manual of what to do while you’re trying to do what you want to do. That is, how do you manage life’s demands and financial survival while you try to do the one thing that keeps calling you. Lucky for me, the addiction only started several years ago when I first introduced myself to a creative writing course. I can’t imagine having that gnawing desire my entire life. Before several years ago, it was about just being overly meticulous with business documents and excessively laboring over the perfect flow of my words before sending off a standard interoffice email or a greeting card. I knew I had a bit of a problem, but it doesn’t even compare now to what awaits me every day as I wake up. Yet, it all feels so clumsy, like I’m a fumbling colt just out of my mother’s belly. I just want to run but everything seems to be working against me to make that happen. Thank goodness for the motivation and encouragement from the several writers whose blogs I love to read… yours most certainly amongst them. 🙂

    Posted by finally_write | March 21, 2012, 6:36 pm
    • Susan — Great minds think alike, I’ve heard 🙂 and thank you for taking the time to read and reply. It’s very motivating to hear words of encouragement from a writer of such insight and a way with prose that you have. This writing biz is lonely at times, but I’ve always had it in me to do so (since I was very young). Not sure why we put off those things that make our heart sing, but here’s to keeping at it and taking comfort from those on the same path.

      Your kind words and encouragement are inspiring! And, it’s nice to know that someone “out there” may have gleaned a little inspiration from reading what was on my mind today.

      Look forward to your next post and be well!

      Posted by Brigitte | March 21, 2012, 8:06 pm
  2. I hope I hope I hope too, Brigitte : ) I enjoyed the post and as always you pack a great deal of inspiration and information – thanks!

    Posted by BrindaBanerjee | March 21, 2012, 11:09 pm
  3. Good post Brigitte. Some of my friends are so pessimistic they hardly write. So it’s good to hear someone point out that most people that succeed paid their dues, and you got to stay in the game.

    Posted by mallisonwhat | March 22, 2012, 3:01 am
    • Hi Matt, I think it’s easy to get discouraged because it’s such an individual activity (the writing process) and a lonely one at times. Nice to have encouragement from fellow writers and thanks for the comment!

      Posted by Brigitte | March 22, 2012, 10:19 am

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