The DPR of writing – Perseverance

Perseverance is a long, satisfying road

Over my 20+ years of teaching creative writing, I’ve seen a lot of talented writers. There are usually a couple in every class, students whose writing I look forward to reading, and who actively welcome workshopping and feedback. And yet I have also learned that even the most talented may not have the perseverance to keep writing, no matter what.

What does no matter what mean? Well, to me it means to keep writing despite rejections, obviously. When you are sending out stories and poems and picture books and constantly receiving form rejection notes, it can be hard to stick it out. Family members who kindly advise you to find something more productive to do (as in a job that pays) don’t help. There are famous stories of writers who received hundreds of rejections and eventually committed suicide, only for their novels to later be published to great acclaim. So you have to grow a thick skin.

But it goes deeper than that. Perseverance is about finishing. Finishing the first draft, for a start. Often I’ve seen three great chapters in a class and two years later, meeting that writer again, they confess they have never written much more than that. They’ve got a fulltime job, or had kids, or travelled or … Their life has become, they think, too busy and too full for writing. If you can’t make the time to finish even a first draft, I guess the writer’s perseverance “bug” passed you by.

Perseverance is also about rewriting. Not just once or twice, but many times. If you’ve received 20 rejections for a story, maybe it needs another major revision. Maybe you need to put it away and write another story. Or two. Or three. Many published novelists talk about their early novels that they learned to put in the bottom drawer, and then keep going. Perseverance means writing more than one story or novel and making your writing career “conditional” on it getting published.

Perseverance is not conditional, it’s enduring. It’s grinding away at a novel, even when you don’t feel inspired. It’s finishing the novel and revising. It’s sending out your work, over and over and over, and learning more about writing so you can continually improve. It doesn’t matter whether you read writing books, attend classes or join a good critique group – if you’re not making efforts to improve and learn, your writing won’t grow. I have often said to students that if I ever felt I knew everything about writing, I’d stop, but I doubt that day will ever come.

Perhaps perseverance is also about enjoying the sense of being in it for the long haul. Knowing it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. That getting up at 5am to write before going to your day job will result in a body of work, and that you will have to keep doing it, maybe for a very long time, no matter what. Call it drive, call it stick-at-it-ness, call it obsession – no, call it professionalism. The cliché is true. If you persevere, you can only get better.

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you. I’d write more, but I have a novel to finish.

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