There’s a parable in the Bible about the persistent widow. She wants justice–it doesn’t ever say what for–but the judge won’t listen to her. Every day she begs him for justice and every day he ignores her. On and on until eventually the judge can’t take it anymore. He gives in and gives the woman justice so she’ll leave him alone. (The parable can be found in Luke 18 if you’re interested). I don’t talk about my faith much on here, partially because I don’t want to be construed as pushing my beliefs on other people, but mostly because I try to keep this blog focused on my writing (although I’ve deviated with a couple personal posts lately). This parable has been bouncing around in my brain, though, not just in the context of my faith, but in the context of writing too.
Everyone knows publishing moves at a glacial pace. You learn that the first time you look at agent response times to queries. I’ve talked about trying to be more patient, but patience isn’t all you need if you want to make it in this business. Persistence is also key.
I’ve been thinking about persistence mostly in the terms of my faith, which is the focus of the parable of the persistent widow. The very first line says Jesus told the parable to show how you should pray without giving up. So every day, multiple times a day actually, I pray an editor buys my manuscript. Maybe that sounds silly to you. Sometimes it feels silly to me, but I still do it. I pray persistently. Like maybe I’ll eventually annoy God like the widow annoyed the judge and He’ll give in. I’ve always been such a Debbie Downer. I’d get a rejection and come home and flop on the bed with a giant sigh and bemoan “it’s never going to happen, I should just give up.” I’d wallow for a day or so, then get back up and started writing again. No matter how badly the rejection hurt, I couldn’t quit. I finally culled that urge to throw a pity party by remembering this parable, and instead of whining that it won’t happen for me, I say a prayer that it will.
Like I said at the start, though, it’s not just about prayer. For me, this parable is a reminder not to give up, period. That holds true no matter what you do or don’t believe. You have to be persistent if you’re going to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. My goal is to be published. To have my books on shelves in stores across the world. For strangers to read my words and invest in my characters. I could’ve given up dozens of times. After my first agent rejections, after my first bad critiques, after my first editor rejections, after a previous manuscript was shelved, after I got frustrated while writing another manuscript. But I didn’t. With each rejection, or bad critique, or writer’s block, I’ve pushed forward. Rejections and negative feedback will always sting, but it would be worse to stop there, for that negative response to be the last input someone has on my writing. So I keep going. I’m persistent. Even when I feel like Sisyphus, struggling to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down and have to start over, which is often.
It would be so easy to quit writing. To say “I tried” and throw in the towel. But if you’re serious about this business, you can’t call mercy. You have to dig deep and keep going. Got a rejection from an agent? Okay, move on and query the next agent. Got some tough critiques on your manuscript? Revise and do another round of betas. Decided a manuscript just isn’t going to work? Trunk it and start another. A plot snag is holding up your story? Brainstorm, talk it over with friends, write an outline. Suck it up.
You’ll never reach your goals if you quit. I never would’ve gotten an agent if I’d stopped after my first rejection. And I’ll never be published if I don’t keep writing new stories and improving my craft. It has taken me a while to get to this point. I’m not exactly an optimist (Hubby says I’m a pessimist, I say I’m a realist). Honestly, my outlook on writing and the publishing industry changed because of this parable, which is why I wanted to share it with you, regardless of your religious leanings or even lack thereof. I have to make an effort remember the persistent widow and keep that lesson in the back of my mind every day. If you’re not religious, so what? That doesn’t negate the point of the story. The point is to keep at it. Whatever it is you’re doing, whatever you’re after, keep at it until you achieve it. Don’t even think about the worst case. Don’t think about failure.
One of my favorite stories of persistence is Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. Here is a snip from an amazing article on her journey to publication:
In the end, I received 60 rejections for The 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.
Five years of writing. Three and a half years of rejection. And she kept going. Her persistence paid off. One day, I want to be able to tell the world my persistence paid off.
I can’t sum this up any better than Kathryn did:
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.