"The reason 99 percent of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home."
— John Campbell
There's a photograph propped within easy sight of my work space. I snapped the image of the commercial fishing vessel with the express intention to bolster my resolve. It's a bold and powerful seafarer, pitch black with gold block letters that proclaim its name and credo — PERSISTENCE. Looking at it prods my tender spot, but pushes me forward with regard to writing, because too many times I've been dead in the water for lack of effort.
It reminds me that I'm no longer the reticent, 11-year-old girl in another picture, standing next to a freshly planted tree on Arbor Day, reading my poem aloud while a crescent of fellow fifth-graders and teachers with their arms folded appear interested. My long hair allowed me to share my thoughts from behind a drape. I knew then writing was my calling, I just never believed it was achievable. It was too wonderful for me.
Throughout the years, there were half-hearted attempts at throwing a line in the water, as if not trying too hard would prevent failure, yet the call persisted. Like a toothache in the night, there was no ignoring it. I'm not sure if my infrequent submissions were ill-chosen or flung in the wrong hole, but my discouragement at rejection and words like, "almost, but not quite," brought long delays between casts.
A calling will haunt you to the grave, and not having tried was a fearful specter. Publishing isn't the measure of success, trying is. It's only taken me 40-plus years of reading books on writing, attending conferences, taking classes, schmoozing with agents, editors and fellow writers to realize there are, in my opinion, three main rules to succeed as a writer, and here they are:
I finally quit bemoaning the fact that I didn't begin earlier, because it's a further waste of time. A writing career is not magic. It's hard work. Words often come stubbornly or refuse altogether. I write because I love to tell a good tale, meet and create fresh characters, and share in the human experience. I write for the power of words and their ability to change people's hearts and lives — the world. I love to make people laugh even though this article is no indication.
I'd begun with nonfiction, but my writing mentor/rump-kicker, Sandy Cathcart, showed me how I was able to say what I wanted through imagined characters and settings, and sometimes more effectively. She kept telling me I could write well. She wins the crown for modeling perseverance to countless others and me.
So, I wrote a novel set in Northern England just after World War II. It took me two years to complete the first time around, and I think it's good. I've had a top agency looking at it for more than three years, including two (or is it three?) revisions. Each version has surpassed the previous example, but it's likely still not finished as far as an editor is concerned. Frustration has threatened to swamp me several times, but I've learned that writing involves waiting, which I'm notoriously rotten at sticking around to learn. So, I've gritted my teeth and allowed patience to have its perfect result while writing through the wait.
I glance at the ship photo and think it may be time to try another spot. Persistence. As Dad used to say, just having a line in the water makes me deadly.
The two years writing the novel felt like a long vacation, even through the stubborn scenes. I recall thinking how fantastic it would be if I could make a living at it. Each year I've made incremental movements toward that goal, and I'm still a long way off. But the ache in the night is gone.
Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at email@example.com.