Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Patience, persistence, and professionalism.

Each time I attend a conference or workshop I hear some conglomeration of these terms as the prescription for achieving success as a writer. It's finally getting through to me. As a school teacher I learned that talent is not the chief requirement for student success. Natural ability without self discipline, personal pride in your work, and self motivation never results in high performance.

The same is true in writing for publication. Talent, giftedness, or natural ability does not necessarily lead to success. Add some patience, persistence, and professionalism to that talent and you're much more likely to accomplish your goals.

Patience: a virtue hard to come by. Actually, that is the way patience is learned-the hard way. Writing for publication is often a waiting game. We wait for brilliant ideas to hit us up side the head. (For those of you who live outside the glorious South, that's one of our colorful euphemisms.) We wait for editors and agents to respond. We wait for critique partners to critique. We wait for galleys and edits. We wait for illustrators. We wait (sometimes for years) for our words to actually appear in the magazines that buy them. We wait to hold that first copy of our masterpiece in our hot little hands. We wait for advances and royalty checks. We wait for people to appear at book signings. The question is, though, how do we do all of that waiting?

We get to choose whether we'll wait patiently keeping ourselves busy with newer projects, or, if we'll wait in misery agonizing over the delays. Patience is much less painful than agony.

Persistence: The ability to hang in there while we wait, while we learn, and while we practice. My dad used to tell me about a brindle bulldog he had as a child. He was a great protector for the family and property mainly because of his reputation. Once that dog bit into something or someone he would NOT let go. Nothing could shake him off once he clamped onto it with his iron jaw. That bulldog had tenacity. Stick-to-it-ivity. Persistence.

We need that kind of lock-jaw as writers. If we're going to pursue publication we have to be determined to stick with it. To learn what we need to learn and to do what we need to do-over and over again until we see our words in print. We need to persist, to continue, to clamp down and not let go of our dreams and hopes no matter what (or who) tries to tear us away from them.

Professionalism: This takes time and study. Were it possible I think every professional writer should earn a degree in literature or creative writing or journalism. But the fact is that most of us earn our degrees in persistence and patience while pursuing publication. (Whoa! look at that alliteration.)

Professionalism dictates that I learn to write well, then keep learning to write even better. It means following protocol and treating others in the industry with respect. Professionalism means paying my dues while I polish my skills as a writer. It means entering the world of publishing in increments that let me prove myself and polish my skills as a writer. It means showing appreciation for others in the business and for my audience. Professionalism means always conducting myself as if I were running a business-a business of selling words and ideas and stories.

Patience to wait while I'm learning.
Persistence to work while I'm waiting.
Professionalism to acknowledge that getting a manuscript into print takes a lot more than talent, and it involves many people standing behind me as I write.

"Three peas in a pod," as my mother used to say when she tucked her three little girls into bed at night. Patience, persistence, professionalism.

If I'm faithful to them, they'll pay me back in success as a writer someday.

Hmmm...now that's a worthy topic for next week's essay--success as a writer. Won't you join me?


Kim Kasch said...

Oh . . . and maybe a little prayer.

Jean Matthew Hall said...

You are so very right, Kim. For Christians who write prayer undergirds, over-arches, and surrounds the other three.

Thanks for the reminder.