The need for perseverance in our work to become successful writers never wanes. Nor do the battles we wage with doubt.
I was reminded of how true this is even for published writers in a recent exchange of New Year’s e-mails with my friend Karen Day.
Karen is the author of two middle-grade novels, Tall Tales (2007) and No Cream Puffs (2008). You might think that once you have written and published a book, or two, the next one would come more easily. Not necessarily so.
In her message, Karen wrote of the struggles she has had with her latest story:
“I went a bit sideways with my last draft (book 3) and so we postponed publishing until a year from now. Which was okay and now I’m thrilled. It gave me extra time to really try and figure out what was wrong with my novel. Finally came to me and now it’s better than before. But I had a rough eight months or so. Couldn’t figure it out and then I worried that I’d never figure it out and then I worried that I’d never write again. . . .Doesn’t matter how many books I publish, I’ll always have a lot of self-doubt. It’s due Monday and it’s in great shape.”
Karen epitomizes perseverance. She wrote her first short story in fourth grade, submitted it to Highlights magazine and got rewarded with her first rejection. At 16, she finished her first novel, sent it off to publishers and added to her rejection collection. When she joined the staff at the sports magazine where I worked, in the mid-1980s, she was crafting stories in her spare time, submitting them and getting turned down. Through graduate school, family relocations, motherhood and more, she continued to write. Along the way, she moved from writing stories for adults to stories for young children to stories for middle-grade students.
Long ago she showed me her detailed fiction-filing system. It included each draft of a story, with careful, color-coded notes tracking the revisions she had made. That way, she could learn from her mistakes and trace her improvement as a writer. Her writing day, even now, begins well before the sun and the rest of her family rise.
In 2000, Karen finished the first draft of a middle-grade novel. Multiple revisions and rejections followed. Finally, in 2005, Karen’s perseverance paid off. She sold the novel to Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House. “And then I revised it even more!” Karen said. In 2007 Tall Tales was published. It was selected for the prestigious Bluebonnet Award statewide reading list in Texas. A year later No Cream Puffs—started in 2003, many times revised—was published. Now the revised manuscript of book 3 is being evaluated.
Despite the decades of writing without the reward of publication, despite the self-doubt even after having two middle-grade novels published, Karen perseveres. The need to write, the urge to create stories and, ultimately, to connect with readers, is what all true writers have. Reaching that final stage of having a story that a publisher wants to publish, though, is hard work. “I think too often that beginning writers don’t understand/believe/realize how important revision is to the publishing process,” Karen says.
If you stick with it, there is a wonderful reward at the end of your long slog. Here is the inspiring way Karen is greeting each day of this New Year:
“I love that feeling of waking up in the morning and thinking, today might be the day that I hear back with an acceptance!!”
My wish—for Karen, for my fellow workshoppers and for you reading this blog—is that such a day arrives in 2010.