Several years ago, an agent complimented my perseverance. “You’re at the point where most writers give up,” he said, “but you’re still here.”
At the time, his words seemed golden, an encouragement to keep going. Now, I have moments when I wonder if I should have quit, even after a contract and holding the finished product of a book that contains my own words.
That moment didn’t come until 30 years after I began writing my first novel. The road to publication is often harder and longer and more heartbreaking than we can ever dream. So why did I keep going?
Logic dictates—or would that be sheer statistics?—that the longer you keep writing and trying to get published, the more likely you are to break into print, sooner or later. If nothing else, many people tire of the waiting game and decide to make publication happen for themselves, so I’m mainly talking traditional publishing here.
As writers, we have to examine why we write—is it for the love of stringing words together, or for the validation that comes from someone else choosing our work for print? The former can drive us indefinitely. We might be sidetracked by the more intense bouts of real life, but we’ll always come back to it. And those of us who write fiction often have the constant chatter of characters in our head, begging us to tell their stories. Regardless, for the lifelong writer, the need to write sings in our veins like an addiction. Even during the years when I’d shelved writing fiction, that need came out in other ways—letters, essays, debate boards online. When I came back to fiction more than ten years ago, it was with an almost indecent rush of bliss.
Where writing itself is concerned, I’ve heard it said that if a person finds they can quit writing, they definitely should. There are better ways of driving oneself insane. Writing with the specific aim of publication, however, is another thing entirely.
Seeking publication moves you from the realm of personal enjoyment/therapy/hobby to that of business. It isn’t as simple of finding someone who likes your work and wants to put it into print, although we wish it could be. It isn’t even as simple as learning to be a good writer, although that’s a huge element in the process. We must also learn how to sell ourselves—the writing of query letters and book proposals, the etiquette in approaching editors and agents, when to hire agents or publicists, promoting our work, how to read contracts, how to file taxes. Then there’s the issue of how little actual money even “successful” writers make.
People pursue publication for various reasons, some more mercenary than others, but basically we write not just to express ourselves but to be read. We might quit, then, for lack of interest in what we write. Or because of feedback that hurt too deeply, or problems with the writing that seem beyond our ability to fix or even understand. And sometimes those problems aren’t solved with mere “fixing.”
Sometimes it’s just that the journey seems too long, too hard. Many of those I started out with received contracts long before I did, and are multipublished now. The temptation is strong to ask, what am I doing wrong? Maybe it isn’t a matter of what we’re doing being wrong, but the timing being wrong. And if it’s mostly timing, are we willing to wait?
The only way I can explain why I kept going is that something inside me wouldn’t let me give up. And I can’t speak for others, but for me, as hard as it was, and as much as I know that getting a first contract was only the beginning, the wait was worth it.
Shannon McNear is the author of Defending Truth, one of nine novellas in A Pioneer Christmas Collection (Barbour Publishing, September 2013). A Midwestern farm girl transplanted more than 20 years ago to Charleston, South Carolina, she loves losing herself in local history, especially the colonial era, but is currently preparing for the impending shock of a . She’s currently a homeschooling mother, military wife, and a member of ACFW, RWA, and My Book Therapy. When not sewing, researching, and leaking story from her fingertips, she finds joy in worship, women’s ministry, and encouraging whoever God brings across her path.