Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb…. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~ Calvin Coolidge
Perhaps it’s unusual to look to a president for writing advice, but Silent Cal sums up the grit you need to write. That writing is lonely work is a cliche, except that it’s true. And even more, writing is screaming into the void. You have no idea, as you are putting words on the page, if anyone will ever read them. There is no guarantee – especially given the sheer volume of words being churned out for Amazon Kindle alone – that anyone outside your immediate family will ever read your work.
You have to put those thoughts out of your head during your writing time (and try to keep those thoughts away even when you’re not writing!) You must face true north and keep moving forward! Persistence will serve you well. The difference between Stephen King and your friend who says that he’s got a million great ideas is persistence. King has famously talked about his rejection letters. We all get them and that’s fine; it’s part of the process. The way to become a better writer is to write. And that means persistence of action and determination of purpose.
Writers need goals. Set a meaningful goal for yourself – something do-able but just slightly uncomfortable. If you think you can write 500 words during a session, set your goal to 600 words. Set a goal to write a first draft in six months and then map out the word count you’d need to have a 60,000 word draft ready in six months. If that seems too easy, great! Nothing wrong with easy. The point is to finish the draft.
There will be days that you don’t want to write. It will feel useless, pointless, fruitless. Too bad! Do it anyway. No self-fulfilling failures here. We are determined to create a new piece of art. We will persist in our quest to tell our story. We will not be discouraged.
Discouraged. What an interesting word! The absence of courage. We don’t think of it quite that way when we use the word. We’re not thinking in terms of being courageous or fearful. We mean that we’re feeling down and dejected, but as Coolidge put it in the opening quote, persistence is the key! I can’t think of a more courageous act than creating art because you want to see it. You create something that didn’t exist before! It’s nothing short of a god-damned miracle, when you think about it.
I still need courage pretty often – I’m not exactly a huge success in the book world (not yet anyway!), but my feelings when I sit down in front of the computer are different than when I was writing that first novel. Every day of creating that first story felt like I was walking a tightrope – and I’m afraid of heights! My hands would shake sometimes from the emotion of it. The bad thoughts in my head – the fears that we all face when we dare to raise our hands – I had to push them away. Sometimes it felt physical. I had to consciously, forcefully think a new thought. I had to consciously, forcefully turn myself back to true north and start typing again.
I’m here to say that it gets easier. My compass tends toward true north now. I rarely have to battle self doubt – not while I’m writing anyway. Persistence and determination are mostly baked-in now. I persist in creating new stories, and I’m determined to share them with the world. And as I think about it, that makes me a success.
The world is full of people who want to be writers, of people who are “working on a novel”, of people who started stories and haven’t finished them yet. That’s all fine; we each have our journey. For me, writing is one of the most important actions I take on a daily basis. It’s one of the most fulfilling parts of my life, and I want other people – people who crave that experience – to know that it is attainable.