Don't Throw in the Towel

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I just read a fantastic kids book! You know the ones--unforgettable, award winning, really really good. Will I ever write like that? Can I ever write like that? My first reaction is: NOT LIKELY! The book was so real, so powerful that I just want to give up. Yet, I can't stop writing--the ideas and characters in my mind won't let me. "Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what," Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, said. If she feels that way, then it is okay for me to as well.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," author Marilyn Singer said. "Don't throw in the towel, use it." She's seen what she calls the TOWEL principal in her successful career. "TOWEL stands for talent, optimism, widespread interests, endurance, and luck." I can't change talent and luck, though I can definitely work on craft so that when a chance comes my work is the best I can make it. But I can work on the other three.

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(Image courtesy of Michael J. Connor)

Optimism
This is where it is helpful to have a good support group. It might be your family, your critique group, or as Jenn Bailey, Social Media Expert, calls them: your Jedi Council, aka writing partners. I get encouragement from all three. Let them know when you're down and want to quit. Read an inspirational book where someone succeeded because they worked hard and endured. Remember you aren't alone; many authors had many many struggles and rejections on the road to publication.
• Margaret Mitchell rewrote the first chapter of Gone With the Wind 70 times.
• Madeline L'Engle had a ten year dry spell before she sold A Wrinkle in Time.
• Dr. Seuss received the following rejection: "...too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."

Widespread Interests
Shake yourself up. Don't just read in your genre. Maybe you should try writing a picture book or a magazine piece for a change. Learn something new. Maybe you need to learn more about a hobby or career that someday you'll give to one of your characters. C.S. Lewis said, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." What other dreams do you have? Can you follow up on them?

At a conference author Lorie Ann Grover used the analogy of filling a soup pot. Before you can scoop out any stew, you have to put in some ingredients and let them simmer. Live some life and you'll have more to write about or more breadth to add to your writing. "Writing tends to spring from what you know, what you think, what you imagine, and you can build on those by reading and being actively involved in life and remaining curious about things you see, hear, read, etc." - Victoria Sherrow, author

Endurance
Elizabeth George in Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life said, "You will be published if you posses three qualities: talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination--either talent and discipline or, passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline. But, if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published."

Discipline goes hand in hand with endurance. Keep on keeping on. Two things that keep me going are my critique group and my writing partners. If they're going to endure, so am I. And one last quote from Harper Lee: "To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It's sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not. Every day."

So I shouldn't give up. And neither should you.

2 Comments

Sue, this is very encouraging! (I especially liked the part about Margaret Mitchell and her 70 first chapter rewrites!) Thank you for sharing. I needed it!

Great post, Sue! I won't give up. :)

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