Wednesday, 9 September 2009
When Sha’el over at "http://wardancingpixie.blogspot.com/ asked me to come up with a guest blog I was thrown. Yeah, me thrown. All that white space and nothing to say. At first. Then I thought about my usual style on May Contain Nuts...which is ok for me ‘cos this is my blog and I get to decide what goes – it’s good to be the king, as the wee lion once sang – and I worried if my house-style would suit Sha’el and her readers.
In any case I decided just to write and see what came up. And what came up kinda surprised me...and then again it didn’t. It’s something that is on my mind right now. Having been on the cusp of a publishing deal a coupla times I need to keep reminding myself to “keep on keeping on” and that’s what I rabbited, sorry blogged about.
I’ve posted it here as well with a few changes – I’ve allowed more of my MCN house-style to come through- but I’d urge you to go pay Sha’el a visit. Her blog is mostly a showcase for vintage photographs and well worth a visit. I don’t know where she finds her amazing images.
My blog for her starts here...
Do you have a dog? When there’s a knock at the door, who’s the first to reach it? The dog, right? If the door goes 100 times of an evening, the dog will run to it every time. And the thing is... it’s never for him.
That, my friends is a facile, but effective description of persistence. A quality that writers and artists, indeed anyone, working in a creative field or anyone with a goal has to master.
The creative world is full of stories of people who persisted until...One of my favourite writers, as frequent visitors to this blog will know is a fella called R.J. Ellory. Roger wrote 22 novels in 6 years. He amassed over 600 rejection letters and yet he kept going until...
Where would you have given up? When would you have decided that enough was enough? 20? 120? Would you have sold your computer to the Samaritans and jumped off the roof of the nearest library shouting – you’ll never know what you could have had! Would you have reached anywhere near 600? Or would you have like Roger, kept on going until...
When I asked him about being, in my view The Poster Boy for Persistence, he had this to say
“I am reminded of something that Paul Auster said. He said that becoming a writer was not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accepted the fact that you were not fit for anything else, you had to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days. I concur with his attitude. From an early age I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and I applied the old adage from Disraeli: ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose’. The twenty-third book I wrote was the first one I had published. I did amass all those rejection letters, and have kept a couple of hundred of my favourite ones. Now it doesn’t matter. Now it feels like that was my learning curve. And I wrote those first twenty-two novels in six years, the majority of them in longhand, so one thing it did teach me was to work and work and work, even when I didn’t feel like it. It gave me a strong work ethic, and made me feel like Picasso. When asked why he was always working and never rested, he said ‘When inspiration finds me, I want it to find me hard at work!’ That’s a good philosophy and one I still apply every day.'
A constancy of purpose. I love that. How does one achieve such a thing? Constant reminders? Keeping in touch with your goal? Giving yourself permission not to be distracted by television, housework, gardening, youtube, plucking your earlobes (honestly, the more I lose on my head the more it grows elsewhere)?
Surely in addition to claiming ownership of persistence, one has to learn how to deal with rejection? Roger counted over 600 rejection letters. An amazing number. Can you imagine them sitting on a pile on your desk? How high do you think they would reach? How hard would it be to pick yourself up again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again...don’t worry, I’m not going to type out 600 of them.
Thinking of my own journey thus far, their have been a fair few disappointments and a goodly number of rejections to deal with. Yet, taking my cue from Roger I persist...
My work ethic is not quite as focused as Roger’s. I’m part driven and part lazy bastard. Not the best combination. I wrote two novels in three years. I attracted an agent who was distracted by other clients and other ambitions and they got nowhere. This was a big learn for me. Attracting an agent may be A Big Step but it is no guarantee. Still I dealt with the disappointment – eventually - and moved on...to novel 3 and while I was submitting this novel I began work on novel 4.
I came close with novel 3. Very close. A major publisher was so serious they were talking to me about what pen name I might use. There is an American author called Michael Malone who beat me to it by a few years.
It fell through. I was crushed. I was like Man Under a Giant Boulder Crushed. I went into a huff with the world. I had a petted lip the size of the sticky-out part on a baseball cap. (Note to self. When coming up with a comparison at least do the research to find the right word) Pushing the boulder off with a few choice curses – bastards was the mot juste if memory serves me well - I carried on working on book 4 never losing sight of the overall goal. I will be a published writer. I will earn my living from writing. This became my mantra.
I attracted another agent. This one was prepared to work hard for me. And she did. Most of the big publishing houses in London have read my crime novels. Again, I have come very close. Some of the rejections were a basic “thanks, but no thanks” and in some ways this is easy to deal with. They didn’t “get” the books. Fine. It was the rejections that turned the books down in rave terms. “Had to stay up all night to finish...” “I LOVED the main character”, “Michael Malone is an accomplished writer who tells a satisfying tale”.
They say that and then they say NO? What the fuck is going on here? I’ve also been turned down because I have written a book set in Scotland. It appears some publishing houses have a quota of Scots. Who knew? And is this a form of marketing racism? Whatever, it is damn disappointing. I can move to Manchester, dude.
Each subsequent rejection has strangely become easier to take. The first few were difficult. I say difficult, in essence I wanted to crawl into a hole, suck on my thumb till it shrunk to the bone and never come out. A few walls were punched. More than a few curses were thrown into the air. I might have said the C word a few times and the F word. And maybe even the other B word. On each occasion it took a couple of days for the cloud of defeat to disperse and for me to regain my equilibrium. And a positive expectation.
Now? I’ve gained enough experience to see that I am moving one “NO” closer to a “YES” with each knockback.
Currently, I am on the desk of two of the largest crime publishers in the UK and two independents. And I’m pressing on with book number 5. And wishing they would hurry the fuck up.
Perseverance. What is it? The ability to go through the fear of failure, the fear of success (yes, I know its crazy, but it’s real) the rejections, the frustrations, the defeats and come out the other side with your goal still alive and intact in your mind.
F.Scott Fitzgerald said you should never mistake any single defeat for a final defeat.
Winston Churchill said, ‘never, never, never, never give up.’
When I started out writing this post, I didn’t intend for it to turn out like a lecture, but I’m sorry I’m not going to apologise (see what I did there). It is what it is.
To be fair, it’s probably an epistle to me, but I hope you get some benefit from it.
I’d like to leave the final few words to Calvin Coolidge.
“Press on. Nothing can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; the world is full of unsuccessful people with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Here’s to pressing on.