Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Fricassee

I've decided that I like being a writer.

Good thing, huh? But you know how it goes. Up and down, down and up, down and down (to be perfectly honest). It takes more than passion for the pen to keep us going.

And recently, I've learned that it takes more than tenacity, too. Last week, I threw out the following question to Holly Root, who opened the Twitter floor to questions that she promised to answer on her blog:

When does tenacity become foolishness?

You can read Holly's thoughtful answer here.

I have since come up with my own answer to the tenacity vs. foolishness question. It's this:

Tenacity is never foolishness unless it resists the ongoing reevaluation of one's ideas and methods.

(Whew. That sounds almost lofty.)

But seriously. Hanging onto one's dream without budging from the status quo -- even when it's not working -- is the epitome of foolishness. Here's an example: An aspiring author has written his first novel. He's worked hard, he's polished it, he's been querying agents for almost three years. He's still unagented, has had a few requests for partials, but no positive comments or any other "bites" on his manuscript.

Continuing to query the same project--without alteration--because he believes in it so strongly = foolishness.

Reworking the project (because he believes in it so strongly) while beginning something new to start querying = tenacity.

Not that that's a brand new concept to most of you. It's just that, sometimes, we experience a moment of clarity that sheds new light, deeper truth, on something we thought we already knew.

That's what has happened to me this week.

I am brilliantly engaged in an I've-Reached-New-Heights edit of my "number one" manuscript, while continuing to press forward on my new YA project. (And, oh, your encouraging words about the YA have been invaluable. Wish I could fully express that without going all schmoopy.)

So be tenacious--and not foolish--along with me. And share your thoughts here. Not just because you know I love to read them, but because they just might speak to the hundreds of kindred spirits who visit this blog daily.

A tiny deposit of wisdom or encouragement will nurture a withering spirit more than you may realize. Your words are worth it--even to only one, silent, withering spirit out there.

Happy Friday, happy writing, happy tenacity!


  1. I think you defined the difference extraordinarily well.

  2. Thank you, Authoress. I read Holly Root's blog the other day and took heart from her answer. Somedays I feel more on the foolish side of the equation - wondering if my decision to continue pursuing an agent is just a waste of time. But I do believe in my manuscript and would be disappointed in myself if I didn't continue. And I've given myself a set of deadlines (100 agents, 2 years, one more full revision) - that alone will, hopefully, keep me from stepping over the tenacity/foolish line :)

    And, of course, I'm working on another project (or 2).


  3. One of the blogs I subscribe to has a weekly feature called "My First Sale," where published authors talk about how they broke into the industry.

    (Here's the blog for people who are interested: )

    I love it for many reasons, but I especially love the one I read where the author's bestseller was actually one that she couldn't get a bite on when she was querying agents. She finally broke into the industry selling her next book. And then her agent sold off previous work, and the one she couldn't sell to an agent became a bestseller and really established her in her genre.

    Then there's this guy on YouTube, Stacey Cochran, who actually vlogs his query journey. He sent out 450 queries to literary agents to sell his book. But it was the 10th book he'd written over a span of fifteen years. He even vlogs receiving his first advance check, and the emotional response he has looking at it.

    (It's really emotional: )

    I guess the moral for me is also one of my favorite quotes from William Saroyan:

    The writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.

  4. Let's see I've just started querying my fourth novel (which is the 8th one I've written), and I'm starting on writing novel #9. So I'm guessing tenacity meets foolishness probably somewhere around there. Or maybe I've already zoomed well ahead of foolishness and am now clinging to insanity.

    *runs off to check inbox*

  5. Authoress,
    Your definition of foolishness reminds me strongely of a definition of insanity I heard a few years ago: "Insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results."

    I recently started my second MS. One day I pulled out my first MS and re-read. Oh. My. Dog. It's bad. It's so bad. I don't want to show it to anyone, much less try to sell it. But I realized that the time I spent writing it wasn't time wasted. It taught me a lot, that terrible, unfinished little book. I think it might have the potential to be a good story, but I'm not good enough to write it yet.

    I've come across several stories where the author's first published novel was his/her sixth, tenth, or sixteenth MS. (Now, that is tenacity!)

    When I begin to question my sanity about being a writer or whether I'm doing something foolish, I turn to my publication bible. Here's what I found.

    "...finish the second book. Send it out on a round of queries. THEN look at novel #1 and see (with what you learned from writing #2) what, if anything, you'd chanage[sic].

    Quit obsessing. Write well.

    Killer Yapp adds 'eat cookies.'"

    Happy Friday!

  6. I was planning to write something profound. But then I read Inkwench's comment and remembered I haven't checked my inbox for like 10 minutes.

    Ooops! Gotta run!

  7. So well put, Authoress. And everyone else too! It is super hard work, this writing life. It requires the drive to keep going and the awareness to know when to change course. It's not a pretty battle, but it's just not one I can drag myself away from!

  8. I've been writing for a number of years (not gonna say, no matter how nice you ask!), and most of those projects sit in a file cabinet in my office. I don't know the # of the project I am currently querying - #5, #12, #???. I just 'knew' when I began writing the project (the write about what you know spiel finally sunk in) that this would be the 'one' I would take all the way to the Bestseller List. Okay, so I haven't found an agent yet, but I still have hope . . . and in the meantime I'm working on other projects).

    So, I've been tenacious with my writing in the fact that I keep writing, but I don't think I've crossed (at least not with my writing) the 'foolish' line yet. Give me time! : )


    p.s. word verify is 'psync" - is that a psychic cynic>

  9. Everything people have said strikes a cord with me. And, going off something I read on Nathan's blog. I think foolishness is when you put the writing above your faith, husband or children or your friends.

    Or when you expect to be published when your writing isn't good enough yet. At the Advanced Writer's Fiction blog, Randy Ingermaason (sp) puts writers into 4 categories: freshman through seniors. Don't expect to get published until your a senior or close to it. The problem is, it might take you longer than four years to become a senior. And we all start at different points.

    Keep going everyone! Authoress that was a blog that will touch every writer's heart. Thank you! We're not alone!

  10. What an interesting and timely topic, as always.

    I am teetering — standing on the tip of tenacity and fearing that I'm very close to losing my balance and falling into the abyss of foolishness.

    I have written three middle grade novels. After writing the third one, I suddenly lost faith in the first two because it is so much better than either of those, although I do still "like" them.

    If any of the three have any hope of ever being published, it's obviously the third one. But to date I have had no nibbles. Perhaps I'm not bad at writing novels but I truly suck at queries. So I continue to rewrite it, in the hope that somewhere out there an agent is just waiting for "The theme I have been waiting for all my life." (Ralphie Parker)

    So I tenaciously pursue that gold at the end of the agent query rainbow. And so should we all until we achieve what we had in mind when we began this journey.

    Better to check my in box, too.


  11. Tenacity is something that is hard for me...I tend to go towards self-doubt the more rejection letters I get. Lucky for me I have a seriously tenacious best friend who repeatedly kicks my butt into gear after each.

    I do have a question that I would love to hear thoughts on...

    If you are writing a trilogy/series, and the first manuscript hasn't gotten a nibble from agents

    Do you carry on writing the rest of the books in the series?

    Or do you let it go and try something new?

    My thoughts on the matter are that I want to carry on my series and see it through, so that the characters don't get tainted by mixing with new characters that I create. However if the series isn't going to get picked up by an agent in the end does that make it a fruitless venture?

  12. I just watched a video of a talk by Malcolm Gladwell where he mentions the '10,000 hour rule' in human factors research. In just about any field that requires specific, specialized skills and/or knowledge, it seems to take approx. 10,000 hours of effort to reach mastery.

    I'm guessing writing counts as such a field. It's going to take me a while to get there, but I'm game.

  13. I really liked this blog on the subject.

    The difference between being confident in your writing and being delusional about it is pretty well defined.

  14. Wow, I feel like I could have asked that same question - I am in a similar place. Also, love how you asked for a more specific answer than the generic "keep querying, keep writing" one, and ended up getting what is a really honest answer.

    I think all three of her points prove the need to be tenacious. With number one, if you keep writing, your execution will improve. Keep writing and eventually you'll hit upon that Big Breakout Concept. Finally, number three, keep on trying and eventually the timing will be right.

  15. What's wrong with going all schmoopy? You know we like that. :)

    Lovely post, Authoress! You are helping so many writers out there, including me. And you're right. It's a group effort. It only gets better when we all participate. :)

  16. I am apparently one of those very backward authors who can write an awesome query in her sleep. Don't hate me, I believe it comes from my background in marketing. Here is my problem. I get 7 requests generated from one month of querying and that is fabulous, but apparently my query is better than my actual novel. I still have 4 agencies with my ms, but I know that it is lacking something.

    In my experience so few authors get published on their first ms and now I am starting to understand why. Good writing requires layer upon layer of complexity from your actual dynamics of writing to your characters, setting, plot, subplots,etc. It is like the miracle of a baby, so many things had to go right to have that little creation be just perfect.

    Now here is the good news. In my experience, as you learn and master each layer, it becomes like riding a bike. If you try to go back to the mistakes you had before, it feels uncomfortable and awkward. Each layer gets easier, each work gets better. Always keep trying and improving as long as you have the improvement you will avoid the foolish side of the slope.

  17. This is a great post, Authoress. I'm one who clung for years to my first novel. It was such a kick to actually finish a book, I couldn't let it go.

    I still love it.

    Recently, I saw a call for submissions on Samhain for their shapeshifter anthology and decided to write something for that -- something short and fun, I thought, to get my head out of my other book.

    It turned out to be a great discipline for me -- and it's also turning into a novel. This time, I'm paying attention to what I'm doing -- not just writing and letting the characters take over!

    And I'm getting advice. I sent my first 50 pages to Anne Frasier (saw her on Twitter) for comment and got the most flat-out awesome input. Now I have the entire structure laid out. All I have to do is write the rest of it!

    blah blah blah

    My point is: If I had stayed with my first book, I would still be in love with it, but I'd be no closer to getting published. It would be foolishness.

    I had to take what I learned and start fresh with a new project and use what I've learned -- and get professional input.

    I'm so excited about this book I'm working on now. I've already written the elevator pitch and the query; it's that clear to me.

    I think that's tenacity.

  18. Yes, I am being tenacious with you! While I'm storyboarding Story #3, I'm doing a major reworking of my original MS which I'd poured my heart into. (Story #2 has not yet been completed; it is waiting for an ending. As a result, I am now storyboarding my w.i.p.)

    One thing that is guiding my rewrite is the concept discussed in STORY by Robert McKee on developing the oppositional aspects to the central value in your own story. The positive and negative aspects of my central value guide all major scene goals and obstacles.

  19. I revised a novel after it suffered a long slow query death last summer. I still love it, that counts for something. And guess what? After walking away from it for a few months to work tenaciously on another project...I picked it up again only to find out they were right. So I'm slicing and dicing, adding and all that good stuff edits bring about. I love it even more. It's becoming what I thought it could be, what I thought it was.

  20. Here's a slightly different way of looking at it that I have. My grandfather, a Professor of English who studied poetry under Robert Frost, died unpublished.

    He was an extraordinary writer, with a dramatic flair and a way with words which I have always aspired to (born and raised in France, he looked at the English language as a challenging game and that came through in his writing).

    As the only member of my family (as of now) who inherited his love of writing, when he passed away I inherited all of his papers. VOLUMES of in A LOT. He died in his late 80's and had kept a journal on notebook paper in his distinctive scrawl for years and years and years. That was in addition to untold numbers of poems and bits of tantalizing fiction...

    and, in the back of one folder, sandwiched between all these other paper-memories was one, just one, lonely rejection letter.

    It was from the mid-1960's from Simon & Schuster. A personal rejection. I still have it.

    He never submitted again as far as I can tell.

    The rejection informed him that everyone at Simon & Schuster loved the manuscript but, in the end, they decided it was too 'intellectual' for the American reading public and that they were passing.

    One rejection and he stopped submitting.

    There's a line in a Harry Chapin song ('Mr. Tanner') where the titular singer performs at Carnegie Hall after a lifetime of dreaming of singing for a living. The critics are unkind and the lyric goes: 'He came home to Dayton and was questioned by his friends/
    Then he smiled and just said nothing and he never sang again...excepting very late night when the shop was dark and closed/he sang softly to was his life, it was not his livelihood.'

    Writing is my life, as it was my grandfather's. He became the public relations director for the city of Miami Beach for the rest of his life, writing for the local papers, speeches for the mayors he served under, and, most of all, for himself.

    I refused to give up after my first rejection...or my hundredth...though I've continued writing so I'm not that much of a fool as to keep trying to sell a failed endeavor.

    This is my life. And, in memory of my grandfather who I miss more than I can express, I'll never stop writing.

    Perhaps that means that someday I'll leave my children a mess of MSWord docs that I can only hope the technology of the day can open along with a folder (or two) of rejection letters. Perhaps one (or more) of them will find themselves in class one day, surrounded by kids doodling instead of listening to the teacher and, rather than draw, they'll write.

    Perhaps Frosty will sell this year, or whatever I write next...or the manuscript after that. Perhaps not.

    Still, writing is my life. It is who I am, who I have always been.

    Perhaps my grandfather should have been more tenacious, or more of a fool. As for me, I'll give up trying when they pry this keyboard out of my cold, dead hands and it pleases me greatly to be here with all of you...

    Jimmy Valvano said it best:

    "Don't give up, don't ever give up"
    "Be a dreamer. If you don't know how to dream, you're dead."

  21. Wow, inspiring story, Peter.
    And from me you get extra credits for quoting a basketball personality like Jimmy V!

  22. Yes, wonderful story, Peter. You definitely have a way with words, too. (A good thing for an aspiring author. ;) ).

    I'm in kind-of a different boat than most. I love to write. I'd love to see myself published. But it's not what I want to do with my life--or I should say, my main career goal. I remain pretty young, and writing is something I do more for myself than for the masses. If no one reads it, then I might be disappointed, but it won't make me question who I am. Because I know exactly who that is.

    Maybe that's foolishness, I don't know. But I do know I should try harder on queries. I guess that's the one bad thing about knowing I want writing to be a "side career" only.