Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Never Give Up

As you may or may not know, Le Muse and I are sort of on the road to recovery. After a two week stint of non-production, we're showing up at the keyboard, trying our darndest to put some sense onto the page. For those of you who are fortunate enough to sit down, write a book all the way through, without the slightest setback or the least bit of sigh... I'm sooo over this story, so, what's next?!... I commend you. Because for me, it's been pretty much the same with all my novels: around mid-book, I get a little bored.

However! I did say I'm on the road to recovery, right? And that's so true. Inspiration has showed up in all forms: friends, readers, articles, and, yes, even witnessing the success of fellow authors. That's why I want to share this with you today. I'm certain we're all familiar with the current box office hit The Help, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer. As writers, I'm also pretty sure we're aware of the fact that this film derived from the bestselling novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

But... did you know Kathryn's novel was rejected 60 times before someone finally gave her a break? Wow. I know, right? And I'm all bent out of shape over, like, ten or so. Here's the thing: We can't give up. YOU can't give up. So, if you've been feeling a little down and out about your manuscript lately, or, perhaps, if you just need a little inspiration, check out this article Kathryn wrote about never giving up.

If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, “She never gives up.” But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, “She. Never. Gives. Up.”
It took me a year and a half to write my earliest version of The Help. I’d told most of my friends and family what I was working on. Why not? We are compelled to talk about our passions. When I’d polished my story, I announced it was done and mailed it to a literary agent.
Six weeks later, I received a rejection letter from the agent, stating, “Story did not sustain my interest.” I was thrilled! I called my friends and told them I’d gotten my first rejection! Right away, I went back to editing. I was sure I could make the story tenser, more riveting, better.
A few months later, I sent it to a few more agents. And received a few more rejections. Well, more like 15. I was a little less giddy this time, but I kept my chin up. “Maybe the next book will be the one,” a friend said. Next book? I wasn’t about to move on to the next one just because of a few stupid letters. I wanted to write this book.
A year and a half later, I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry. “You have so much resolve, Kathryn,” a friend said to me. “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?”
That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas, slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubbornness.
After rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed by how many times a person could repaint her apartment. The truth was, I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read.
Sometimes I’d go to literary conferences, just to be around other writers trying to get published. I’d inevitably meet some successful writer who’d tell me, “Just keep at it. I received 14 rejections before I finally got an agent. Fourteen. How many have you gotten?”
By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published. I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter. I would not go to the hospital until I’d typed The End. I was still poring over my research in my hospital room when the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.”
It got worse. I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl. After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.
In the end, I received 60 rejections forThe Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.
The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
And if your friends make fun of you for chasing your dream, remember—just lie.
The article was written by Kathryn Stockett.

You can find Kathryn's wonderful debut novel on Amazon.com and bookdepository.com, and you can check out the official movie site for The Help here. Oh... and by the by, the soundtrack is incredible. Ray Charles, Frankie Valli, Johnny Cash? Doesn't get much better than this. ;)

Hope you found this as inspirational as I did. Have a great week, everyone.

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,



Lela said...

It IS inspirational! Thanks for posting this. I have been searching for that thing that will kick me back into the game. This helps. I tried kicking around ideas with the hubby, but, that didn't work either. I just jot them all down and hope I can come up with something. I know how you have been feeling and it is wonderful that you are finding the path back! Happy writing! :)

Bonnie Rae said...

This was a wonderful read! It really reminded me of growing up in MS.

Glad your muse is back! <3

Andrew Leon said...

I'm all for stubborness. I'm also, though, for not playing the stupid games the publishing industry likes to make authors play. It makes things... interesting.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I like how upbeat she was in writing about it in hindsight. I keep hearing about how many rejections published authors got and it doesn't always make me feel encouraged, really. Sometimes, though. Depends on my mood! I'm trying to meet back up with my muse, as well. Seems I've gotten myself into way too many things and they are finally biting me on the booty and strangling my muse. How to fix, how to fix. Good luck connecting with your muse!

Rachel Pudelek said...

Yes, I can't wait to see the movie and as I sat in the theater seat watching the trailer for it last week I was yet again inspired by the authors story.

I read that article of her a bit ago and every time I see anything about The Help, I'm reminded of her determination.

Stephanie Meyer said she received 15 rejections I think for Twilight, but 60 for The Help? Amazing!

Alyssia said...

@Lela I'm so glad you enjoyed/found it in inspiring, too! Happy writing! :)

@Bonnie Doesn't it, though?! And thanks for the well-wishes.

@Andrew *smile* You are too right about that. At times, I am definitely guilty of thinking more about whether someone will want to buy my story, publish it, rather than enjoying my craft, writing the story I want to write. That's something I need to work on.

@Shannon It's scary, isn't it? And I will keep your muse mind, as well, Shannon. I, too, am familiar with what happens when too much "stuff" gets piled onto my plate. I stress, bite my nails, lose sleep. I have a real problem with saying, "no."

@Rachel I've been told to take a pack of tissues! Eep! And yes... Reading of other fellow authors' struggles through this journey makes me feel as if I'm not alone, you know? Then, knowing they've succeeded through the storm... yeah. I can do this. WE can do this! :)

Alyssia said...

By the by, folks, sorry for the delay--again--in blogging. But I'm visiting my family in South Mississippi. It's not an excuse, of course, but it's a reason. ;)

Bonnie Rae said...

Left you an award on my blog - love!

Sylvia Ney said...

New follower here. I headed over from Bonnie Rae's blog. Thank you so much for sharing this news. It's always nice to hear how much others struggled, but still succeed. It reminds us all not to give up.


Andrew Leon said...

I'm giving you an award over on my blog even as I type this.

Lola X said...

Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

Lola x

Alyssia said...

Thanks, Andrew! :) And you, too, Lola. Glad you like the blog! I promise, we'll have new entries next week. ;) Been hugely hectic around the house lately.

Aguilar Elliot said...

it seems as if you embody the age old advice of "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

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