May 20th, 2019

Soldiering On With Your Writing

by Fae Rowen

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perseverance as "continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition."

I don't usually check definitions, but I knew perseverance meant more than stubborn, even when I was confronted by the word for the first time. By the chair of the Department of Physical Sciences. My first week at college.

After attending his "demonstration lecture" during a College Week visit, I enrolled in the only undergraduate class Dr. Gelbaum taught. Instead of beginning with a review of what we should already know or a syllabus or rules, he opened with, "What is the most important characteristic of a math major?"

In the class of over a hundred students, surprisingly few hands went up.

"Intelligence." Helpful, but no.

"Memorization skill." No.

"Organization." No

"A big coffee pot." Chuckle.

"Lack of fear." Closer.

When he'd called on all the raised hands, he looked at us and sighed. "No more hands? No more guesses?

"I asked you this question because you will never make it as a math major at this institution if you don't have perseverance."

A few gasps. One person got up and walked out of the lecture hall.

I wish I could remember all of the rest of his opening as well as the beginning, but here's what I remember.

Perseverance makes other people think of you as stubborn, because you fail, then you try again. And again. And again. Not exactly the same thing, but you try to solve the problem in another way, with another tool. You work on the same problem for weeks, looking for a thread of logic that will unlock a solution or find a way to finesse a more elegant, shorter way to the answer.

“When you're in physics or German class, your mind wanders to the rough edges of a solution. When you're playing a game of pick-up basketball or sitting on your board out in the ocean surfing, an approach you haven't tried surfaces and you stop, look for paper and pencil and sketch out a new idea.

“When you fail a homework quiz because you couldn't make headway on just one out of the twenty problems and that was the one problem on the quiz. When you fail a test because there was a new kind of problem on it, one that forced you to analyze and synthesize what you've learned to create a whole new technique and you didn't have time to finish it once you figured out the approach. But you attend quiz sessions, visit your professor during office hours, and burn that proverbial midnight oil until you've figured out something new, something you'd never been able to do before, you are a math major.

“Because you have perseverance. When things get hard, when you don't understand what's going wrong, when you don't know how to make it better, you keep working on it. You find research. You talk to others. You read papers. You start and stop. You throw away a lot of attempts. But you keep following your dream, you keep working on your problem, because it's become the most important thing in your world and, eventually, you will solve that problem and present it to others to enjoy, to learn from, to build into the future.

"End of lecture. Read the first chapter in your textbook. Do all the problems that you can't."

Dr. Gelbaum's first lecture coalesced everything I needed to hear and remember about perseverance. And it gave me a very important word for my adulthood. I persevered and got that math degree, then a master's. I persevered in my career as a mathematician.

And when I decided to write, I persevered when a friend read my first book and offered the name of a writers' group I should join. Every time I receive a chapter back from one of my critique partners, I persevere and edit words that need some finesse, even though they were the best words I could think of at the time. When my editor tells me my character arcs aren't strong enough, I go back and analyze what is missing, then I synthesize a solution.

To be successful, writers need every characteristic mentioned by Dr. Bernard Gelbaum. We have to persevere in the face of all the changes in the publishing industry. We have to persevere just to finish a book that has a chance of being bought by readers who are hungry for our stories. We have to persevere and market our work so readers can find us. All while life swirls around us.

But if we can juggle all that's necessary, if we push through every rejection, every less-than-five-star review, every time we don't think we can make a deadline, that perseverance muscle gets stronger. And we're better for it. We soldier on.

We know that we can do anything. Be anything. And we are. Writers.

How have you soldiered on—in your writing life or in life? What character trait helps you the most to get through the times that make you willing to quit and give up your dreams?

ABOUT FAE:

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Image credits:
"Don't Quit" - DepositPhotos
"Never Give Up" by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

28 responses to “Soldiering On With Your Writing”

  1. SO true! I was once told by a successful author friend that the only thing that separated her from all her unpublished writer friends was persistence, and I took that to heart as well. You don't fail unless you quit. Also, this post DELIGHTS me because it sums up everything I know about you. 🙂

  2. Claire Gem says:

    Great and very inspiring post. I just "soldiered on" and finished a book I've been struggling with for almost a year. I keep on plugging along as this "author" thing and believe, in my heart, that someday it will pay off. I'll reach my goal of making writing a full-time career. And yes, I've been accused of being stubborn on more than one occasion 😉

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Thanks, Claire. Tiffany's absolutely right in her comments: "You don't fail unless you quit." Some of us just take a little longer, especially if being an author isn't what we trained for, and we have to learn all about structure, POV, and all that other author-speak stuff.

  3. Holly Robinson says:

    Love this, Fae. It took me nearly 20 years to publish my first book. I think the thing that kept me going was the fact that writing has always given me an escape portal--the rest of my life is so much easier if I have that portal to drop into when I need an escape. I'm lucky that so many of my novels have been published, and hope to publish more, but for me the joy is definitely in the process of solving those word puzzles on the page.

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Congratulations on a long and successful career, Holly! Writing is often my escape-valve, too, especially since I write science fiction and can build any world I need at the time. I don't know about the "joy... of solving those word puzzles," though. It's a good thing I have the perseverance side of things mastered!

  4. Kim Lightle says:

    Thank you so much for this post. For me, it's incredibly well timed. I am on the verge of giving up, before I even started... perseverance. That's what it's all about. Reach for that dream, and just do it. So, thank you.

  5. barbdelong says:

    I also have been on the verge of giving up writing from time to time. It's so hard!! But, I've written my whole life and giving up would leave a huge hole in my heart. I get crabby and restless when I'm not writing. So here I am at my computer! Thanks for this thoughtful post, Fae!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I can't imagine you crabby and restless, Barb! So, you must be writing regularly. 🙂

    • Fae Rowen says:

      I'm glad to remind you—anytime—to hang in there. It's worth it. When I think, "If I didn't write I could play as many computer games as I want," I remember that no one cares what level I'm on-not even me. And it doesn't do anyone, even me, any good, where my stories might help others with their struggles.

  6. Julie Glover says:

    We've often talked about our firstborn son having the trait of perseverance/stubbornness. One's the positive side, and the other is the negative side. But it's mostly positive, in that he just doesn't give up when he wants something. It's why he learned to ride a bike with no training wheels at age 3 1/2 years. (Go figure.)

    I wish I had that same instinct when it came to writing. I have to cultivate it! But you're so right about its importance. Thanks for reminding us, Fae!

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Kudos to your firstborn, Julie! His perseverance will keep him out of your basement when he's thirty! And it sounds like he has laser-focus as well. You could end up with a really nice retirement!

  7. Salmy says:

    Thanks Fae. Math teachers - they're the best! Mine told us that what we need in life was imagination 🙂 Anyway, it's coming up to five years for me and perseverance is all I have right now to finally finish my epic novel.

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Imagination in life was a great tip, Salmy! You'll feel differently about all your hard work once you type THE END to your epic novel. The first one, particularly when it's epic. takes a long time because you are learning so many things along the way. And revising, revising, revising. Best of luck to you!

  8. Victoria Marie Lees says:

    Bravo, Fae, on all you've achieved. As I read, I kept thinking that this is exactly what writers need to do. Let's hear it for the perseverance muscle!

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Thank you, Victoria. Sometimes that perseverance "muscle" (love that visual!) gets stretched, pulled or cramped, but that makes me step back and take stock of what I'm doing—or not doing.

  9. Mary Bailey says:

    An excellent article! Thank you. I really needed to read it.

  10. Thanks, Fae. Great essay, and it came at a perfect time for me. The old saying is that it doesn't matter how often you are knocked down, as long as you get up one more time. Hey, if this was easy, everybody would do it. Thanks again!

  11. dholcomb1 says:

    Fantastic advice!

    I have three autoimmune diseases and was once, for the better part of fifteen years, the volunteer, non-clinical facilitator for a support group for one of the diseases. And, I explained perseverance to members and guests. Get out of bed, do something, take a shower, etc... because, with a disease, it's so easy to wallow in the mire of pain, symptoms, lack of compassion and understanding from others, and I can't.

    So there's no reason I can't apply this to other aspects of my life, right?

    denise

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