Since it’s that time of year when everyone decides to make huge changes to their lives, I feel like it’s time to talk about not quitting. Challenges have driven my entire life. If someone challenges me to do something (or questions something I want to do), I usually won’t stop until I’ve achieved that goal.
I’ll never forget when my high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t leave Tennessee to go to school in Washington, D.C. I’d already gotten into a great school in D.C., yet the guidance counselor called me in to tell me I’d probably “be more successful if I went to Motlow State Community College” in the next town over. And really, there’s not anything wrong with going to school there, but I’d already gotten into my dream school!
The guidance counselor just automatically thought I was going to fail. She didn’t even look at my test scores or my GPA, I’m pretty sure she was thinking about how I wasn’t as good as her daughter at softball, so therefore, I must suck at everything.
When I got to college, I told a girl that I wanted to get an internship at the State Department. The girl said, “Only like 5% of applicants get in. You never will.” So what did I do? I put in an application, and they called me up and offered me an internship in the EXACT office I wanted to work in. It turns out that they loved how I had “real world” experience – working at kids’ camps and Cracker Barrel. If I had taken that girl’s word that I wouldn’t get an internship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
When I decided to run a marathon, people said, “Well, I hope you don’t die.” (Yes, some jerks actually said that.) But I worked hard and prepared by learning everything I could about running, shoes, the trails, the course, etc. And on the day of the Marine Corps Marathon, I finished in a respectable amount of time, and didn’t die.
So, just to recap:
- I am not dead from running;
- I did not fail out of school; in fact, I graduated;
- I now work at the State Department in a cool position where I find myself in all sorts of strange situations and meeting neat people;
- It’s a pretty good thing I didn’t quit at any of those things!
In terms of writing, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Trying to get an agent takes so much time and research, not to mention needing to develop a tough skin to deal with constant rejection. If I’d given up after the first time a partial was rejected, I obviously wouldn’t have an agent now, and I wouldn’t have ever learned how important it is to keep writing, and revise, revise, revise until you can’t revise anymore.
Sure, not everyone is going to like your work. Not everyone is going to connect with your writing style or voice, but you shouldn’t give up, because you might find one agent or editor who actually likes your work. Hell, my own father doesn’t like some of the stuff I do. (I really do appreciate the honesty, which is crucial to writing.) But that doesn’t mean I should quit.
Here are a few of my favorite rejections I’ve gotten that have almost driven me to pull my hair out (excuse the cliché) in frustration/confusion, but that have made me just work harder:
“Thank you so much for the opportunity to review your manuscript. While there are many things to love here, I just didn’t feel that “spark” – the special connection that I need to feel in order to take on a new client. There is no doubt that you are a good writer, and I am sure that I’ll be kicking myself for this when you sign that big book deal! But you deserve an agent who will feel just as passionate about your work as you do. Very best of luck, and I look forward to reading all about your successes.”
“I’ve read your sample pages, and while I think you show great potential as a writer, I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t connect with the voice as much as I’d hoped I would. I’m sorry I don’t have better news, but I wish you the best of luck in your search for the right agent and publisher. Keep writing!”
(I’ll spare you from stuff like when I was told, “Your writing is obtuse and your chapter breaks suck.”)
If your resolution is to finish a novel, my advice is to never give up, but keep writing as much as you can. My New Year’s resolution is to stop beating myself up over crappy first drafts. I’ll never quit writing, and I hope you don’t either. And keep reading everything you can get your hands on. As John Green has said, and forgive me if this is not the exact quote, [“Reading is the best apprenticeship a writer could ever have.”]