Guest-post by Jeanne Lyet Gassman
As an author and a creative writing teacher, I tell my students a writer needs to follow the three P’s for success: Practice, Professionalism, and Persistence. Practice is easy. You write, and you write some more. You seek feedback, and you revise. Above all, you keep writing, keep working on your craft. Professionalism is simple. You learn the rules of etiquette in the writing business, and you follow them. Don’t trash peers, editors, or presses in public or online. Understand that rejection is not personal.
Did I mention that dreaded word, “rejection”? That is where persistence comes into play. Rejection, of course, is part of the process. Sometimes the no comes with a little bit of encouragement, and sometimes it’s just a no. You cling to the nice rejections that remind you of why you do this, and you try to let the indifferent no’s slide away into oblivion.
My mother was my role model for persistence. Forty-nine years old, recovering from a broken hip, and caring for an eight-year-old at home (me), she returned to college to earn her B.A. in art. For three years, she drove 60 miles each way several days a week to take courses at a university. When she limped across that stage to accept her diploma, I was never more proud, and I knew then that one could do anything with determination and persistence. It was a lesson I would need to remember often during my own journey to become a published writer.
I was 52 when I decided to pursue my MFA at a low-residency program. My children were almost grown, and I had been dabbling at writing for years, tossing out a story here and there, getting a few things published, but never working with any discipline or plan. And there was the Novel. Well, it was actually the third novel, since the first two abandoned attempts were languishing in a drawer. But this third novel, the one I had been writing for three years, had something. I could feel it, and I knew I needed guidance and a firm hand to push me across the finish line.
Truthfully, my first intent was to come closer to the finish line. I never really believed I would actually complete the novel during the two years I worked on my MFA, but during my second semester, my advisor insisted I had to finish the book, not write just a few more chapters. Eager to please and more than slightly intimidated, I typed THE END on Thanksgiving Day while my family prepared the turkey dinner.
After graduating with my MFA, I had a completed novel and no clue how I would get it published. I revised it one more time on my own, cleaning up problems I knew existed in those earlier drafts. Then I began the arduous process of querying. My MFA experience taught me to be thorough, and I set out to master the art of writing the perfect query. My first efforts were abysmal, and unfortunately, one of those first queries garnered a request for a copy of the full manuscript. Mentally planning my first book tour, confident that publication was only months away, I sent off the manuscript. I never heard from that agent again.
Eighteen months and almost 200 queries later, I had reached the end of the line. My queries dwindled to a trickle, and I started another book. But I didn’t abandon the Novel completely. I entered it into a few contests, where it was a semi-finalist in one competition and a finalist in another–just enough hope to keep me going.
My lowest point came at a writer’s conference when I met a friend for a drink to celebrate the publication of her debut novel. I was telling her about my hopes for this new agent who had asked for detailed revisions when the email arrived: “I’m sorry to say…” Our celebration drink turned into a vale of my tears. Perhaps it was time to shelve the Novel.
Four weeks later, I received a phone call. The book was a finalist in another contest, and the publisher wanted to offer me a contract!
There was more work to do, of course. The publisher hired a historical expert who helped correct some inaccuracies. My editor put me through multiple revisions. It would be another two years and many, many changes before my novel went to press.
Two weeks ago, on March 17, 2015, my debut historical novel, Blood of a Stone, was launched by Tuscany Press. Do the math: 8+ years from inception to publication. Persistence–the difference between a published book and a manuscript in a drawer.
JEANNE LYET GASSMAN lives in Arizona where the desert landscape inspires much of her fiction. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has received fellowships from Ragdale and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. In addition to writing, Jeanne teaches creative writing workshops in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area. Her work has appeared in Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, The Museum of Americana, Assisi: An Online Journal of Arts & Letters, Switchback, Literary Mama, and Barrelhouse, among many others. Blood of a Stone is her debut novel.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace.
Photo by BK is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.