Persistence

While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published January 20, 2011.

ITWplainSeeing the galleys for my first book was like seeing a sonogram of a baby that’s been growing inside me for years. I was giddy with excitement to see the cover, the type, and the design of the chapters. Like one of those biblical matriarchs, I felt as if I’d been waiting six hundred years for this birth. In truth, it had only been twenty-five. 

In February, 1985, I received my first rejection letter for a novel I’d written the previous year. The letter arrived on my twenty-ninth birthday, and I despaired of achieving my goal of having a book published before I turned thirty. I didn’t start my next novel until ten years later, and I was well into my forties by the time it was complete – and it’s still not published. I wrote Into The Wilderness in 2002, when I was forty-eight.

During the twenty-five years I’ve been writing but not publishing novels, I’ve also raised a family and worked to help support it. I’ve done some interesting things, like taught literature to health care workers and writing to inmates; and I’ve done some less interesting things, like laundry. I’ve worried about my children, argued with my husband, witnessed my parents age, and – always – kept writing.

A few years ago, a published friend said to me, “The single thing that separates those who get into print from those who don’t is persistence.”

I persisted.

I have the requisite number of rejection letters to wallpaper not just the fabled bathroom, but also the interior of a small house. Some are simple form letters; others are full of high praise. I’ve come to prefer the form letters that start with, “Dear Writer” to those that say what a splendid writer I am and what a wonderful book I have – for someone else to publish. There were months when I could have been working in a boomerang factory, when all the typescripts I sent out kept homing back. But a year ago, I received the letter I’d been waiting for all this time, and now, my book is in print.

This long, slow, journey has made me wonder what gave me the tenacity to keep writing despite so many other things to do (help with homework, wash dishes, plant peas), and what gave me the chutzpah to keep refusing to accept repeated rejection. My answer: my cats and my dog.

My dog doesn't know how to read.

My dog doesn’t know how to read.

As Groucho Marx famously said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” My dog is a great companion, but she’s illiterate. She dislikes the indoor, sedentary pleasures of literature. She’d rather be outdoors, on a walk. I did a lot of thinking on those walks, which are a kind of moving meditation in which I work out narrative difficulties. I also watch my pooch in her mostly futile attempts to catch the chipmunks. Despite her dismal record of failure, my dog never fails to take up the challenge. She flings herself over stonewalls and gives herself whole-heartedly to the chase. And she’s never discouraged by her failure to catch a chipmunk, only by my failure, some days, to take her out.

My cats, on the other hand, want me to do nothing but sit at my desk all day, so they can drape themselves decorously across my papers, my lap, or my keyboard. They approve of literature, and like to lie across the page of any open book, but especially on the page I’m reading. One of them likes to watch the cursor progress across my computer screen; the other likes best to curl up in a manuscript box, anchoring the pages in place. As far as they’re concerned, the only reason for me to leave my desk is to open a can of cat food.

Between the cats and the dog, I’m blessed with companions who provide inspiration, in the case of the felines, and a model of persistence, in the case of the dog. They have been good company for this long haul. They’ve helped mitigate the loneliness of writing in silence, a silence that has at last come to an end.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin will resume writing when she returns from hiking The Long Trail. Meanwhile, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox – just subscribe at www.deborahleeluskin.com. It’s easy, it’s entertaining, educational, and it’s free!

17 thoughts on “Persistence

    • Gina, Thanks for your kind words! I just read your blog. Thanks for reminding me about THE CARROT SEED. Good story. What’s the title (and status) of your YA novel? And let me know what you think about INTO THE WILDERNESS . . . Best wishes, Deborah.

      Deborah Lee Luskin author of INTO THE WILDERNESS “a fiercely intelligent love story”

      http://www.deborahleeluskin.com

    • Wendy – I’m afraid to tell you, but I also keep chickens – but not as pets! I have a laying flock, and every summer I raise and butcher meat birds . . .To me, they’re part of my agricultural enterprise, while the pets are part of the family. -Deb.

  1. Deb,
    This was just wonderful. I feel like we’ve already met!
    It’s been a crazy week for me – no time for working on my fiction – but the reality of my dream never stops sitting on my shoulder – nudging me even as I’m preparing business proposals, writing eBooks, and crafting Web copy for my clients. My dream is persistent in its nagging, and I do my best to be persistent in my actions – throwing myself, like your dog, at the smallest flicker of hope, again, and again … though, so far, I haven’t gotten far if you’re measuring by outward standards.

    And, I love your description of the silent support provided by your four-legged friends. I have always found animals to be the best companions for a writer – they are full of wild logic and unspoken wisdom that buoys us when we need it most, and brings us back to the basics of being alive when we need that. I lost my dog last summer and miss him dreadfully still. Perhaps it’s time for me to adopt a new muse … or let one adopt me.

    So glad to have you on board & looking forward to meeting you in Real Life someday. 🙂

    • Jamie, Thanks so much for your kind words. I love the image of your dream sitting on your shoulder. For better or worse, my dream was a nag – an eagle on my shoulder ready to pluck out my eyes if I didn’t come through. Now, I’d like to befriend that dream, both be a little kinder to one another – and the rest of my family. Having a published novel has helped a great deal; even so, it’s the writing that matters, so don’t stop! I am so pleased to be embraced by you and the other bloggers. It’s early days, but I already feel part of something. All best, Deb.

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  5. It’s true. What’s sad is I think there are amazing writers and stories that never see the light of day because they’re writers aren’t persistent about either writing them down or sharing them.

  6. This is one of the reasons I keep writing. I’m in my mid thirties and have only really tried to be serious with this writing within the last year when some medical issues have forced me out of the workplace. it’s been fortunate though in that writing is what I’ve always wanted to do and now I can! I get to take care of my family and I get to write. Life is perfect.

    Sure, it’ll be better once I get something published… which I suppose means I need to get something finished first. Either way, persistence! That’s the key!

    Thank you for writing and sharing this with us.

  7. A really wonderful article and a hilarious one too, put smiles while reading. Its really encouraging and inspiring how you have kept on writing in spite of not being accepted. I too want to write a book one day, this is especially to help and give hope to others who are having mental issues, that they too can become well enough to have a normal life like me. Thank you. You have really given me lot of courage. Hope you are having fun and enjoying your hike. Hiking is something I am unable to do, as at this time my legs are not as strong as they used to be. I have done enough house work, cooking, washing, driving and what ever that goes with being a full time house wife. Now that both my sons have flown the nest, I am into doing more things with my head than hands and feet, and that is the reading, studying and writing part. Happy hiking and all the very best. I am so glad I have met you here. I am learning so much from everyone 🙂 Thank you ❤

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