On Writing and Determination (A Love Letter)
I babysat my 10-month-old grandson George one day this week, as I do most weeks, and as he gets older and more mobile I’m struck by one thing: his determination.
He’ll attempt to climb on his rocking moose, for instance, but miss and plop on the floor. Up he scrabbles again. Then he discovers the moose’s handles, but in so doing, takes a header. Cries for a minute, starts over again. He’s teaching himself to walk by pushing chairs across the dining room floor. Up, walk, walk, walk, fall, cry or sometimes not, up again, walk some more.
The sheer amount of effort it takes to grow from a baby into even a tiny toddling-size human is astounding, and I’m constantly in awe of his determination to get there. And observing George reminds me that writing takes energy and determination, too, just of a more cerebral kind.
I’m not naturally good at it. Determination, I mean. Sometimes I wonder what people would say my biggest tragic flaw is and I think I know—I give up too easily. I remember how, early in my career, I got good comments from agents when I sent out novels but the faintest whiff of rejection and I got discouraged and quit. I also often made the rookie writer mistake of hiding something I’d written away when somebody critiqued it. Note: I said critiqued it, not criticized. Big difference. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I wasn’t good enough.
I lost faith in myself. Over and over and over again.
And that’s the underlying key here, the one that I’ve discovered as I’ve aged. Determination is tied to faith in yourself. Because that’s when I quit. When I convince myself I’m not good enough. When I lose confidence. When I get scared I don’t have what it takes. I think that’s when we all quit. If you have no confidence in yourself, it is hard to go out and face the big, scary world.
But—and here’s a big but—I’ve learned this about myself over the years. It is my natural tendency (yours, too?) to flounder when it comes to having determination and faith in myself. (Getting older is good for some things. Quite a few things, actually.) And so now I can catch myself when I’m quitting because someone said boo to me. Or if I start worrying too much about product versus process when I’m writing. (As in: what will my agent think of this? What will my beta readers think? What will the public think? And of course, the thing is, the public will never have a chance to think anything about it because the writing won’t see the light of day if I keep second-guessing myself.)
Babies are good for reminding adults of lots of things, especially when said adults are grandparents and have a bit more distance from in-the-trenches, day-to-day parenting. And what George reminds me of is this: we’re all born with this determination, or we wouldn’t be walking, talking adults.
And so next time you get rejected by an editor or agent, remember this. Next time you throw up your hands in disgust because you think your writing isn’t good enough, remember. Next time you decide you don’t have what it takes to finish Nanowrimo, remember.
Remember and go back to the page. Or back to the next person on your agent list. Go back to that novel rewrite. You can do this. You just gotta muster up a bit more determination. But I know it’s there somewhere. It has to be—you got this far, didn’t you?
Leave a comment and tell me about a time you used your determination. Or just say hi.