Monday, March 28, 2011

The Power of Persistence

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

-Calvin Coolidge

It happens to all of us. When we least expect it, Self Doubt shows its ugly face. Anything can trigger it: a harsh critique, a rejection letter, months of silence from an editor or agent, a sarcastic question (“you’re still not published?”) Maybe it’s the blank page on our computer screens, or the awful realization that our manuscript presents serious problems and needs a major rewrite (and many of our beloved characters must be eradicated from the face of the Earth.)

With the visit of such an unwelcomed character (whom we shall call SD), it’s no surprise that so many writers give up their dream of seeing their names printed on the cover of a book. After all, there are easier, more practical and instantly-rewarding professions. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just quit and save yourself the heartache?

Yes, it would be simpler.


There will always be that little splinter stuck inside your heart that from time to time—in the middle of a sleepless night, chopping vegetables in your kitchen, standing in the line of a grocery store—would make you wonder:

‘What if I had finished that novel? What if I had pursued more agents? I could have been published by now. After all,’ you think as you pick a copy of a new paperback from the nearest magazine rack, ‘if so and so got published (and as I can see, this is not a work of art) I could have done this. My writing and my plot were much better than this!’

“Yes,” Mr. Coolidge reminds you with his thunderous voice, “you may be more talented and educated and creative, but YOU ARE NOT PERSISTENT, while Mrs. So and So IS!”

President Calvin Coolidge, a very persistent man.

It is persistence that pushed Margaret Mitchell to continue pursuing publication after Gone With The Wind had been rejected by 38 publishers.

Margaret Mitchell typed all 1037 pages of the first edition of
Gone With The Wind without the assistance of our friend, the PC.

The same persistence that Louise May Alcott had after they told her to “stick to teaching.” Or Judy Blume after two years of rejections; or John Grisham after 16 publishers said no to A Time to Kill.

If Jodi Picoult had listened to her SD monster, she would have never sent another query letter after more than 100 agents refused to represent her.

All the books we would have missed if this
prolific writer had quit after 100 rejections.

It must have taken a lot of determination and persistence for D.H. Lawrence to continue seeking a publisher for Lady Chatterly’s Lover after one of them told him: “For your own sake do not publish this book.”

Or Stephen King, who got dozens of rejections for his first novel, Carrie, but didn’t believe the publisher who claimed that “Science Fiction with negative utopias doesn’t sell.” (It was also a good thing that his wife—another persistent cat—recovered his crumpled manuscript from the trash bin.)

First edition of Carrie (thank you Mrs. King for
picking through your husband’s trash!)

Without persistence, Gabriel García Marquez would not have typed every day for eighteen months, sold his car and pawned almost every household appliance to provide for his family before he emerged with the thirteen-hundred-page-manuscript that would become his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Don Gabriel García Marquez and
the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

(Eighteen months of writing that must have felt like a hundred years.)

And we all know where persistence took J.K. Rowling. (And a certain publisher’s daughter who couldn’t resist the charm of Harry Potter and persuaded her father to publish his story.)

There is no other profession where President Coolidge’s words prove more true than in writing. The publishing world is filled with inspiring stories of now-famous authors whose dreams may have seemed hopeless and foolish at first. But where would literature be now had they not persisted?

What about you: Have you ever felt like quitting? How did you find the motivation to continue writing? Can you think of other examples where persistence paid off?


  1. Persistence in any endeavour is vital. But more so, it seems, when one is trying to get published. Though persistence itself cannot be a directionless quality. It must be managed, with an ear to the experience of those who have come down the path before us and another to our own hearts.

    A writer must never cease to follow, often doggedly, the road to publication- if that is what they seek. And it is certainly my opinion that one's words should not idle in darkness. But the manner in which that quest is executed might manifest in a number of ways, including allowing yourself, at any given juncture, the time and space to get your bearings in a swirling sea.

    Miss Lorena, I know of no other writer quite so consistently upbeat and determined as you. Thanks for your inspiring post. See you at brunch. ;)

  2. It´s a frightening thought, but we should listen to noone but our instinct, and that should be the key to persistance. I admire my Sisters' tenacity which so many of us lack, and agree with Calvin Coolidge that persevarance is the road to success. I fear I let doubts and rules and well-intentioned criticism hold me back

  3. That's quite a speech from a president who was known to say very little at all. At least when Coolidge did speak, he had a strong purpose behind his very selective words.
    Thanks for this post, Lorena. I agree one hundred percent that as writers we need to be persistent if we want to get our work out there. I think every writer goes through some period where he/she questions whether this is the right place for them. I know I have. But I'm also one of those who says that more opposition, more words of doubt, more diagnoses of ineptitude or inability to conquer and overcome, will only make me fight all the harder for what I feel is my calling and overcome what others believe is a futile battle. So what if I'm not published? There are many ways that writers can make a name for themselves before that first book hits the shelves. We all need drive no matter what, if we want to succeed. Thanks for your upbeat words!

  4. Whoof (that's the sound I just made after reading through this while trying really hard not to cry). Thanks. :)

  5. What a great post! We all need to be reminded, from time to time, that we are not alone in our struggles. It's amazing to hear how many times wonderful books were rejected before finding a publisher. There's hope yet!

  6. Awesome post. Self doubt is the evil twin of creativity. Writers are so good at imagining things that we create the most terrifying mental monsters.

    “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” - Richard Bach.

  7. Thank you for this post! It's just what I needed - a little shot in the arm! I've written a six novels (in the process of my 7th), and most of them still require more rounds of edits, fine-tuning of their query, and a catching synopsis written.

    Sometimes, it feels very overwhelming, and hard to focus - one thing at a time. With this post, as a great motivator, I will persist, and I will focus. I can do it - dang it! :)

  8. Very nice article Lorena, I think you are one persistent cat too!

    My favorite Calvin Coolidge quote (though not quite so profound) is, "when a great amount of people are unable to find work, unemployment results."

    Congrats on a very uplifting article.


  9. yay for this post and for all your hard work to put it together. saving this post! inspirational indeed! christy

  10. Very inspirational post, Lorena: thank you! Have another success story (not my own, unfortunately): I went to a workshop recently where one of the presenters said she was in a critique group with three old-timers and one newcomer, a young mother. She was struggling. Struggling to find time, to get the words right. The book they were critiquing ended up unpublished, but the next book sold. And guess what? That woman just won the *Newbery Award* for it! Dang, is that success or what? ("Moon over Manifest" is the book, Clare Vanderpool is the author.)

  11. Time and a sense of priorities should follow Perseverance. Sometimes we feel that other things are more important than our writing, especially if we lack time. I am caught in a job similar to the one described in The Devil Wears Prada, and always feel guilty when I take time for my writing, but now I unerstand why Andrea throws away her cell phone into a Parisian fountain. It´s then that she realizes that writing should be her first priority, not babysitting Miranda´s ego and selling her soul in the proccess

  12. Suze, thank you for your words, my friend!

    Erica, Christy and Carolyn: With so much negativity us writers are constantly facing, I wanted to share some stories I found particularly inspiring/positive. I'm glad you found inspiration in them, too!

    Samantha, I love this: "Writers are so good at imagining things that we create the most terrifying mental monsters." Sometimes I think we are our worst enemies/detractors.

    Sylvia, yes there is always hope! Thank you for stopping by.

    Danny, did he really say that? Suddenly, he doesn't seem so brilliant, ha ha!

    Sister Violante, you are completely right. We often put our writing in the bottom of our priority list. Sometimes I feel guilty if I ignore "more important" responsibilities in order to write. (Maybe because we enjoy it? Or because it doesn't seem like a pressing matter?)

    Sister Stephanie, thanks for sharing another inspirational story! You made me curious about that writer.

    Sister Mary, you make a good point we often forget. A writer doesn't have to be published before he makes a name for him/herself. I like that!

    Thank you all for your comments!

  13. I have, as most of have, heard about J.K. Rowling's numerous rejections, but I hadn't heard of these others. I just love Marquez's persistence and faith in his work.

  14. So do I, Missed Periods! Not a lot of writers have that confidence in their work.

    Thanks for stopping by! (And thanks for letting me know my use of the semicolon in your blog was impeccable - that is one tricky punctuation mark!)

  15. What a wonderful collection of inspiring examples!

    I've never felt like quitting yet...but I suppose I'd consider at the very least a 'hiatus' the day I stop enjoying writing, or the day the stories in my head fall silent. I don't see that ever happening, so I suppose that makes me a 'lifer'.


  16. What a great post! Persistences is a great trait to have. Thanks for the reminder of all those that were rejected before they were represented.

  17. Thanks Adina and Shelley for stopping by! I'm glad these success stories were inspirational to both of you. I believe writers should be reminded often that their dreams CAN come true. (We need it during our low moments.) Keep writing and polishing those manuscripts!

  18. Thank you for a very inspiring post, Lorena!

    Jodi Picoult had 100 agents reject her!?! Wow. These stories are inspiring indeed.

    Most of my frustration, so far, has been concentrated on my own shortcomings as a fiction writer and the painful process of revising. I never had to struggle this hard while writing non-fiction.

    Reading about Junot Díaz's writer's block and the 10 years it took him between Drown and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao really put things into perspective for me. Junot was a celebrated and experienced writer when he published Drown. And still he had to struggle against self doubt and many other monsters for 10 years before he finished Oscar Wao and won the Pulitzer and many other awards.

    If it was so hard for Junot, why am I surprised and frustrated that dramatically-less-experienced-me is having trouble? I try to remember that every time I feel like giving up—which is way more often that I'd like to admit.


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