The most important aspect of the writing life, to me, is resilience. You know it, if you’re a writer. Resilience isn’t a trait that is taught, it’s learned. It’s the inner drive that allows us to bounce back, to recover from adversity – whether it’s our first rejection or our latest. Because we know as writers that to do this thing, this craft and this job we love, we must be buoyant. We must keep hope floating, even in the face of all the facts. And the facts are daunting. The journey from a completed manuscript to actually holding a published book in your hands can be a long and frustrating one. We’ve all heard of the overnight success stories. But that’s why we’ve all heard of them. For most of us, it will be a journey of perseverance, of heartache and ultimately, with enough resilience, success.
My story isn’t unique. I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since I can remember articulating a career. When our teacher in 3rd grade told the class to write to a person who has the job you would like to have someday, I wrote to Robert McCloskey of Make Wake for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal fame. I explained how much I wanted to be a writer, like him, and how much I enjoyed his stories. He wrote back and told me, thanks, but he was an illustrator. Undaunted, I kept the dream alive.
Fast-forward to my life today. I’m a mom of four teens who just became a consultant for the real estate company I co-founded with my husband. For the first time, ever, I had a moment to stop and reflect on what I’d dreamed of since so long ago. Sure, I’d tried to pursue my writing dreams along the way. I’d even been honored with two different agents through the years, but somehow nothing clicked. We’d get close, those agents and I, to the big acceptance, the “yes” from New York. But ultimately, a no would come my way and I’d put my hopes and my manuscripts back in the drawer. But I didn’t give up.
Was it because I didn’t have confidence to pursue this career of a novelist with single-minded focus? Perhaps, but most of us don’t have the luxury of simply writing full time. Was it because my writing wasn’t ready, my craft was still developing? I don’t think you ever stop growing, so I could have used that excuse to give up. I don’t have the answers to those questions. But I do know I continued to write. I continued to take online masters classes and attend writers’ conferences when I could. I remained convinced this was my calling, that someday a novel of mine would be published.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great career as a journalist and later in marketing and finally, ironically, in what has become the most resilient of all industries, real estate. If you want a non-literary example of survivors, of buoyancy, sit down and talk to your favorite real estate agent who is still working in today’s market. I found the inspiration for my first book by working with these amazing entrepreneurs. In what is to me truly ironic, I pitched the nonfiction proposal for REAL YOU INCORPORATED: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs (Wiley|08) to a single literary agent and just one publisher, both of whom responded the next day with a yes.
That type of overnight yes didn’t happen for my novel, obviously.
So when the yes did come last year, when the dream began to become reality, you better believe it was that much more exciting. This is the dream. This is what I’ve been bouncing back in hopes of. The advance reader copies of HERE, HOME, HOPE arrived on my doorstep in a brown cardboard box just before Christmas. My hands were shaking as I cut open the package and reached inside. As I picked up the ARC, I held the realization of a lifetime of dreams, of work, of springing back. Was it worth it, continuing to ignore the facts, the odds stacked against me? Of course. Now it is. But when I look back at the very long and exhausting road that most of us must take from our dreams of writing a novel to the reality of holding a published book in our hands, I know resilience is the reason I made it through.
And, just as I know that this character trait is what worked for me, what allowed me to finally be able to say that I am now a published novelist, the ability to spring back can and will work for you, too. No matter your field, but especially in this one. Resilience is learned by those who make it: you don’t need it if you give up. So keep bouncing.
This column appeared the The Sacramento Book Review, a great place for book lovers.