noun \ˌpər-sə-ˈvir-ən(t)s\ First known use: 14th century
:The quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult : Continued effort to do or achieve something despite opposition : Steady persistence in a course of action
“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” Samuel Johnson, Johnsonian Miscellanies, Vol 2.
About a year and a half ago, a friend and successful mystery writer told me, “Writing a novel takes persistence. And when you think you’re done, you’re probably not.”
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. But she was right. And as I slog my way through the fourth major revision of my manuscript, I tell myself that I may not be at the end of the process yet, but I am drilling down toward the goal, and that’s what counts.
One source of encouragement is the experience of others. Most successful writers will admit to a flood of rejection letters. Some stories are legendary. Here’s a sampling:
- Agatha Christie endured five years of rejection before publishing The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
- C. S. Lewis, author of The Narnia Chronicles, received over 800 rejections before he published a single piece of writing.
- William Faulkner received this rejection letter: “If the book had a plot and structure, we might suggest shortening and revisions, but it is so diffuse that I don’t think this would be of any use.”
- J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected repeatedly until the eight-year-old daughter of an editor demanded to read the rest of the book.
- Dr. Seuss was told about his first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
- Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.
- Madeleine L’Engel‘s classic A Wrinkle in Time was turned down 26 times before it was published.
- George Orwell was told of Animal Farm, “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
- Louise Penny, author of the Gamache mystery series set in Canada (and one of my favorite mystery writers), says her first mystery Still Life was turned down more times than she was willing to admit, even to her agent.
Last year more than 400,000 people took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo). The annual event challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. Every year hundreds of thousands of novels are begun. A much smaller number are completed. But are they finished? What does it mean to be finished? What does it take?
Taking a novel from the first word to publishable form takes many things: talent, time, effort, a little bit of luck, friends, the ability to receive and profit from criticism, endless revisions, more criticism, more revisions.