Writers who succeed are those who persevere through first drafts that feels like pushing jelly uphill; refuse to take second-best for the multiple re-writes; do the spit and polish at the end; then cope with rejection letters, and re-write and edit again.
I’m polishing off a junior fiction novel I started writing in 2003 – wrote the first draft in a leather journal with gilt-edged pages and smooth, smooth blue-lined paper, and dated it, that’s why I know it was so long ago. (It was such a pleasure writing in a beautiful journal the first-draft stopped being a chore.)
Other stories have been written in those six years and accepted for publication since then, but this one is dear to my heart.
It’s a story that required research, imagination and a love of the English language – particularly the works of Shakespeare. It also needed a huge dose of PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE.
Not that it’s an easy thing, this perseverance game!
I wrote a blog last year about coping with writing doldrums – thought it might be worth rehashing as a boost for anyone with a story that is getting nowhere fast.
One of my survival tactics when writing novels is to read an extract from the biography of Katsushika Hokusai, brilliant artist and Japanese master of the ukiyo-e, the woodcut print. You would’ve seen copies of his famous works from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji – they’ve featured in advertisements and fabric designs. Hokusai was born in Edo (Tokyo) in 1760 and died at the age of 88, in 1849. His most famous work is considered to be The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
Japanese woodcut printmaking is a labourious, time-consuming procedure of carving in stages into a cherry wood board before printing and reprinting on the same piece of paper – yes, you do require patience.
Hokusai was a man obsessed with printmaking. He even took the art name of Gakyo-rojin at one stage which translates old man mad with painting. Which makes his attitude to perseverance all that more remarkable.
This is what he wrote in his autobiography, probably with tongue planted in cheek as he had a little dig at himself:
From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note.
At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees.
Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own.
I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.
You can see how this puts frustrating writing moments into a much clearer perspective. Attitude is all important.
Like everyone else I go through the frustrations of rejections. But it is true, persevere with re-writing and submitting and eventually they stop being one-line or one paragraph dismissals. Instead, they return with letters suggesting possible problems or an editor’s positive encouragement.
Not that I’d ever give up doing what I love most anyway!