A while back, I wrote a post on the value of ambition in which I discussed various forms of ambition and the ways each of them had benefited my art and my career. I would like to offer a companion piece to that first post, by focusing on a second quality — tenacity — that a) has served me well over the years, and b) manifests itself in different forms.
Tenacity: noun — Persistence in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired. (from Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.)
There are actually a couple of other definitions of the word, but this is the one that most fully gets at the essence of what the word means to me. And hey, it’s my post . . .
Writing is an endeavor — and a profession — that can be absolutely brutal on those who tend to give up too easily. The work is constant and slow; its rewards tend to be delayed, in many cases for months or years. Progress comes in fits and starts; success can be both elusive and illusory. And even when we reach a pinnacle, we are almost immediately faced with a harrowing descent and yet another summit to climb. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us working is sheer determination, and a stubborn, almost pathological refusal to give up. Let me offer a few examples.
Day-to-Day Tenacity: Also known as BIC. A.J. wrote a terrific post on Friday about the need to take time off occasionally, to recognize that one need not write Every. Single. Day. in order to be a successful writer. But still A.J., I am sure, would be the first to say that writers write, and that in order to succeed in this business one has to write on a regular basis. But what about when a project is going slowly? What about those times in the midst of writing a story or novel when every moment of writing is tortuous? We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all found ourselves writing a book that we know we WANT to write, but that is driving us nuts and making us want to do ANYTHING other than write. What keeps us going? Only our unwillingness to quit, our resolve to finish the book or die in the attempt. (I may be overstating a bit; or maybe I’m not…) Butt In Chair IS tenacity, and it is the foundation of any successful writer career.
Project Tenacity: Have you ever been working on a book and run headlong into a creative brick wall? This happens to me quite often, actually. I will be in the midst of writing a story and will suddenly run up against . . . something that stops me cold. Maybe it’s a plot point that doesn’t work, or a gap in the progression of my narrative that I hadn’t anticipated and can’t seem to bridge. Maybe it’s a problem with a character or with the interaction among characters. Maybe it’s simply the realization that the story I thought would fill a 100,000 word novel only seems to be yielding a 65,000 word novel, and, well, I need 35,000 more words. There are so many problems that can hang up a project, and at one time or another I have probably encountered all of them. Early in my career, I would often panic when this happened, and it got to the point that my wife would laugh at me. Because while I often ran into these walls at top speed, once I staggered back to my feet and shook the cobwebs from my head, I would manage to find a way over the walls, or around them, or straight through them if nothing else worked. The point is, I always found that my belief in the project allowed me to move forward. My faith that “there really is a book here, despite these problems” was always stronger than the urge to chuck it all and start over.
Market Tenacity: Right now I am working on a book that I first wrote in 2005. The book had a publisher, and then the publisher went belly-up and we had to try to sell it again. No one was interested. So I rewrote it. And then I rewrote it again. A year later, I tore it apart and put it back together as something fundamentally different and far, far better. But after a friend read it and gave me comments, I realized that it still wasn’t quite ready. I put it away, came back to it briefly last summer, then put it away again. Now I’m going through it once more, making some fairly substantive changes, but also finding that I still love the premise, the story, the characters, the writing. I still believe that this is a publishable novel, and I am absolutely determined to fight for it and see it in print. Yes, this may be folly. I imagine that Lucienne, who probably knows exactly which book I’m describing, is cringing a bit at the thought of me working on it yet again. But I love, love, love this book. Sometimes tenacity leads us astray; this might well be one of those times. It may be that the book isn’t as good as I think it is, or it may be that despite being good, there is no place for it in the market. I’ll just have to see. In the meantime, though, I will continue to polish it, until it is as good as I can possibly make it. And then we’ll try again to find a home for it.
Career Tenacity: I am a midlist author, and I want to be more. Some of you reading this are also midlisters hoping for that big breakthrough. Others among you are aspiring writers who would love to make it to the midlist. And others still are hoping for that first sale, and just looking to get your foot in the door. Whatever category you’re in, the fact that you are aspiring to the next level despite setbacks, despite the years of waiting, shows that you possess career tenacity. I wouldn’t want to try to assign relative value to the various types of tenacity I’ve described. Without day-to-day tenacity, nothing would ever get written. Without project tenacity, too many books would languish unfinished on our hard drives or notepads. Without market tenacity we might never make that first sale, or that tenth sale that proves to be the Big One. But it seems to me that career tenacity is what drives all the others, at least for me. This is the one that hurts the most, that manages most often to take me to the brink of simply saying “Screw it; I give up.” It’s also the one that offers the greatest sense of satisfaction when things go well. I admit it: I write because I want to be successful. I love to write; I would write even if I never made another cent from any of my books or stories. But I am driven by my ambition; I am tenacious — day-to-day, book-to-book, sale-to-sale — because I want to see my books do well commercially and gain critical praise.
Your tenacity doesn’t have to be sourced in the same things mine is. You don’t have to think of your resolve using the same terms I have in this post. But I do believe that if you’re going to be “successful as a writer” — whatever that phrase means to you — you have to want it, you have to fight for it, you have to be persistent.
So what drives you? In what ways are you tenacious? In ways do you need to be even more determined?David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net