Monday, February 13, 2017

On Persistence

Today we visit the ghost of words past...

I had originally written this for the Shimmer blog when they first published my short story, "The House was Never a Castle"--my first and only sale to that market. It's a fabulous publication, and I'm happy to note it is still drawing breath.

I value all the words, especially those from a time to which I cannot return. Persistence--resilience's first cousin--has so much value in life.

(Cue flashback music...)

My four-year-old son, Max, plays with the Soccer Hobbits on Saturday mornings, and no one keeps an “official” score. Soccer Hobbits focuses on playing, learning to love the game, experience, and fun. When Max pursues the ball during scrimmage, however, the look of grim determination on his face speaks all business. Max might not be as big or as fast as some of his peers, but he makes up for his lack of prowess with sheer guts and persistence. One tiny tap of the ball, even if it is stolen a microsecond later, proves enough to keep the fight in his tiny legs.

I can’t help but draw a parallel to what it takes to stay in the game as a writer.

Anyone can write. I have to believe as much to survive my day job as a high school English teacher. Some days are harder than others, for my students as well as me. Writing well and developing one’s craft requires patience. Patience requires a healthy dose of perspective. Since I started my writing journey four years ago, I’ve gained as much perspective as any bit of craft. Rejection is part of the game, and I’ve received my share. Each “no” used to sting like a solid punch in the gut, knocking the writing wind out of me.

But persistence requires a certain level of stubbornness despite little defeats. I listened to editors. I dusted off my knees and worked harder. I read. I’ve read the best in the field, devouring year’s best volumes, retrospective collections, award winners—trying to unlock the magic. Along the way, I identified what I liked, what worked and what didn’t, in the stories I read. I made a mental list. I wrote, too. Every day. Even days when I was too sick or tired or defeated to keep going, I forced at least one hundred words on a page, just as Max forces his little legs to keep pumping on the soccer field.

I first submitted to Shimmer in 2007. By my count, I’ve beleaguered the editorial staff with 27 manuscripts over the past few years. Persistence requires a writer to believe the next time will be it, the golden message, an acceptance letter with contract attached. It’s a sort of insanity, really, trying to find a home for one’s stories in highly competitive markets. For a writer to stay with the game, a writer must believe each story is better than the last, each story is a move forward.

And finally, most of all, a writer must be patient—as patient with her/himself as with a market’s submission wait-time. Craft does improve, only with time and effort; no “magic writing beans” exist, no overnight elixirs of brilliance. Stories need patience, too. Patience to develop. Patience for the characters and setting and plot cogs to snap together in the right way. Sometimes patience requires a story be set aside for months, as I did with “The House was Never a Castle.” I’m not the same writer I was when I first submitted to Shimmer back in 2007. I won’t be the same writer a year from now. 

Max can keep playing soccer as long as he loves it; I’ll hammer away, story after story, page after page, word after word, putting my patience and persistence to the test.

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