Pushing Through the Doubts

JordanA Writer's Guide to Persistence, Guest Blogs, Writers Persist.9 Comments

Guest-post by Jeanne Lyet Gassman

color author photo Jeanne Lyet GassmanAs 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.

http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Stone-Jeanne-Lyet-Gassman-ebook/dp/B00TKHQ15C

***
Still time to register for the 2nd Annual Writer Path Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015. Registration closes April 15.

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.

JordanPushing Through the Doubts

9 Comments on “Pushing Through the Doubts”

  1. Renee Cassese

    Thank you for this article. The act and mindset of persistence is the one most important quality a writer must have to succeed. It is something I’ve struggled with for all my writing years, which amounts to most of the years of my life. I can relate to those unfinished, or unpolished novels that reside in the writer’s file cabinet–I have 3 myself. One has been completely discarded as it was written long before computers and flash drives. The other two are finished, one was queried several times and rejected, and sleep soundly in their file folders and on a flash drive. My present WIP has been with me for five years now and it’s time I donned the cloak of persistence and finished the first draft, revised it thoroughly and sent it on its way in the world so I can begin the next Novel. I have a 2 page list of ideas for future novels–it’s not coming up with ideas that leaves me stymied it’s that persistence. It’s now time to commit. Looking forward to the plot retreat to make this happen. And now, off to write chapter 17!!

  2. Donna Trump

    Jeanne–So much of what I needed today. 7 years and counting on novel #1, waiting for a response from my agent re: recent revisions, a lot of good work on novel #2, nonetheless dreading convo’s w/my peers at upcoming AWP events about their publications and my lack thereof (shameful, but true…). Anyway: persistence. Yes. Just ordered your book, btw. Can’t wait to read.

  3. jerry welch

    I needed to see this…
    I dabbled with writing a fiction novel for a year, experimenting with an outline, etc..
    18 months ago I got serious and made changes in my life to support my new addiction.
    Rushing home from work each day so that I could get back to my writing efforts, I haven’t watched TV or been to a movie in 18 months, all I do is write, and write, and write…
    I heard it takes 10,000 hours to become ‘skilled’ at creative works. Well I’ve got over 3,000 and the counter is still rolling.
    My first book is a month away from sending it off to publication scrutiny…I can handle it because I haven’t quit my day job, it’s my first book, and my own mother won’t even read it so rejection is already apparent 🙂
    Thank you for your article. -Jerry

  4. Wendymm

    Love this Jeanne! I decided to pursue my dream of writing when I turned 50. It has been scary sometimes, but the small victories keep me going, not the least of which is the privilege of writing itself! Off to look for your novel!

  5. Jeanne Lyet Gassman

    Oh, my goodness! Thank you for all of your positive comments! My Twitter feed exploded this morning. Renee, one thing that kept me going through the long novel slog was writing shorter pieces, including a short story based on characters in the book. I believe we learn from every effort, every draft, but it can be so discouraging to receive rejection after rejection. However, I’ll also repeat a mantra my publisher has publisher has shared with me: “You’ll never know if you don’t try. Rejection is just another step to yes.” It may sound like a platitude, but the greatest risk is sending your work out there. So glad to hear you’re committing to chapter 17. One page at a time will get you that polished draft.

    Donna, I’ve been there. AWP is always a blast, but I find it intimidating, too, when I encounter peers who have won awards I applied for but didn’t get, who have just published their third best-selling book, etc. I just try to remind myself that this isn’t a competition. My journey is my own, and I need to be proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

    jerrywelch, going back to school for my MFA was the best thing I ever did for myself. It was a life-changing choice that pushed me out of my rut of “someday I’ll write a book” to thinking about myself as a working writer, a writer who commits to putting words to the page every day. I write through the garbage to find the gems. And it’s hard to recognize that creating art takes so much time from our families and friends. My kids still joke about fixing Thanksgiving dinner. They are convinced I used the novel as an excuse not to cook!

    Thank you all for sharing your stories with me. It’s inspiring!

    Best,
    Jeanne

    1. Renee

      Yes, one page at a time. I’ve developed a thick skin. I’m 65 and been writing for years. I take the rejections for what they are and celebrate the publications. I also write poetry and short stories and yes I agree writing shorter pieces in between long nights over novel scenes and chapters helps and make me feel as though I’ve accomplished something. I believe in the end short stories may be the way for me to go but this novel has been sitting a long time and it needs to get done.

  6. Diane

    Jeanne, thank you for this look behind the scenes. I love your novel and had no idea (though should have guessed – given how things work in the publishing world) how many disappointments and obstacles blocked the road till your success. Yes, please, at least 30 more years and many books!

    1. Jeanne Lyet Gassman

      Diane,

      Thank you! Do know that you had a BIG part in making this book happen. I owe you a huge debt for pushing me to the finish line, and I still remember what reading Squandering the Blue did for me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *