On Persisting

Edith here, with so many tomatoes in my kitchen it’s turning red.

I’ve been thinking about persistence lately. Some of us have talked here and there about how important this trait is for authors to have and cultivate. Why would that be?

Let’s start with finishing a first draft. If you don’t persist and write through to the end, it’s not a book. Not a book you can revise and polish, not a book you can land an agent with, not a book you can sell to a publishing house, and more important, not a book anyone else will ever read. I just finished writing my seventeenth first draft of a novel, and there sure were times I didn’t want to keep digging, keep writing, keep trying to discern what needed to happen next. But I did. The author adage of “Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard” really just boils down to persistence.

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Querying agents takes a huge amount of persistence. You just have to keep going until you have one, or more than one, who wants to take you on.  You might have to suffer through a hundred rejections. Once you do sign with an agent, it’s his or her job to persist until your book is sold.

And even before that, you need to persist all over again and come up with another book, the best book you can write, and then another.

Of course we persist in all kinds of other areas of our lives. Maybe it’s coming up with a peace treaty both sides can live with. Maybe it’s conceiving a child. Maybe it’s being patient and firm with a recalcitrant teenage child. Finding good care for an elderly parent. Weeding the garden. Scrubbing a burnt pot. Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail – or just continuing to pedal to the top of a hill.

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A postcard Julie Hennrikus got made up and handed out to us.The background names on this postcard are of women who persisted, from Malala to Alcott, Poehler to Ginsburg, Kahlo to Stanton, and more.

Standing up for the rights of those without a voice is a great place to persist. What if Rosa Parks hadn’t persisted, or Gloria Steinem? Sojourner Truth or Margaret Sanger?

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Julie and I share a senator who persists in standing up for the middle class, transparency in financial transactions, and so much more.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to persist in the first pass revisions of Death Over Easy!

Readers: Where have you persisted with good results? Any place it backfired on you? Which persistent person do you admire?

27 thoughts on “On Persisting

  1. When all four of my children were in school, I went back to school and persisted until I finished that part of my education. Then took classes each year as required by my job and by my search for knowledge ..

  2. In one of the few times in my life where I actually set a goal and completed it (rather than just fortuitously falling into things), I completed an MS in Computer Information Systems degree in three years, at night and without a break, while working 45 to 50 hours per week on my day job.

  3. Getting published (too obvious?). I’d been dumped from my “perfect” job and was house-sitting states away from my family, and knew we’d be moving in only a few months, so I told myself that I should try writing seriously while I had the time and the peaceful environment. I wrote a book, and another, and another, until I had a series of three and no idea what to do next. I had no clue about genres or book lengths or how to find an agent or a publisher. I located a published friend who pointed me to the next step, which helped. But the reality was, I had a bunch of manuscripts and nobody was buying them. It took five years from the time I finished the first one until an agent finally took an interest. None of those early books has ever sold.

    But I refused to give up. Persistent? You bet. Or you could call it stubborn just as easily. I chose to believe in myself, and I just kept trying until it worked.

  4. Persistence. I sent my grand daughters (6 and 4 years old) “She Persisted” by Chelsea Clinton. “Persisted” was a new word for them. What delight they found in just pronouncing that word. Thank you, Edith, for this post.

  5. “Nevertheless, she persisted,” has become a bit of a mantra for me this year as I work my way through drafts and the other challenges life throws at you.

    In my previous career, I worked at three successful start-up companies, including one I co-founded. The work is impossible and the odds are long. Nevertheless, I persisted, as did many, many others who made those companies successful.

    On the other hand, though I’m proud of my first novel, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, it probably would have been better for my writing and my writing career if I’d walked away from it and started something else.

    • Changing where you live and writing books at the same time is a huge challenge Barb. You are doing remarkably well. And I will say, I loved your first book. I’m glad you got it published.

  6. I’m still persisting in the writing thing. I feel I reached a landmark with short stories; next hurdle is getting a book out there.

    And yes, persisting until the book is finished. I wanted to give up on the book I hope to FINISH this week several times, but I kept going.

  7. Probably when I started my editing business. I had to put myself out there more publicly than felt comfortable, but I had to persist if I wanted the venture to succeed. Now, the dime has flipped and I have to persist to keep up with my personal writing because my business work is so busy!

  8. I worked days and went to law school nights. More than half my class flunked out or quit before we graduated but I vowed that I wasn’t leaving unless they carried me out. I got the degree, passed the bar and have been persisting ever since. There are days when I’m swamped at the office and days when I’m working on the MS but I go and I answer the phones and do what needs to be done.

    Truly admire Elizabeth Warren. I was standing at the airport with one of my “she persisted” t-shirts on and came face-to-face with a guy standing by a car with the license plate “resist”.

  9. I am working at the beach today (no really, I am!). So I can’t edit the post, but it was our own Wicked Julie who had those postcards printed and handed them out. Thanks, Julie. How about Julie Hennrikus for Senate, gang?

  10. I join the ranks of those who persisted through college. I was working full time, had a family, and was deeply invested in volunteer work. It took me 9 1/2 years to get my degree, but I never missed a 2-course semester or summer and graduated magna cum laude. I have accomplished a lot of neat things in my life, but this is one of my proudest.

  11. I was persisting through graduate school when it became clear that it was not in my best interest to keep standing up to the deluge of obstacles. In general, though, persistence has been my friend. Knowing when to stand down, protect, move on, start over is also important.
    I just signed up for a memoir class and nanowrimo and hoping to join the ranks of someone who finished a draft.

  12. Any form of needle art requires persistence. It is, after all, just a matter of doing one stitch at a time, but, no difference whether it is quilting, knitting, crochet, or dressmaking, those stitches all add up. Sadly, one cannot read and do needle art at the same time (and, no, audio-books do NOT solve that problem).

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