Posts Tagged ‘persistence’

When I started teaching I used define success externally. Were my students learning? Did they get what I was trying to teach them?

Slowly, I came around to defining success internally. Did I do the best I could do at the given time? How did I feel about how I interacted with my students? Was I working at becoming a better teacher and not just going through the motions?

When I looked back at each day or week or year I could gage where I’d been and think about where I wanted to go. What big changes did I want to make? What from the foundation I’d built did I want to remain the same?

I think you can apply the same system to writing. Sure, we all have external goals. Procuring an agent to shop our manuscripts and help us build a writing career. Landing a book deal. Landing multiple book deals. Having a book optioned for a movie. The list goes on.

When I look at what I do as a writer daily, weekly, yearly, the less I focus on the external—the things I have no control over—and the more I focus on the internal, i.e. how much time am I devoting to my writing, to learning the craft, to experimenting with new ways to tell stories… well, these are the things that are going to make me a better writer. And, a more satisfied writer.

Instead of worrying about the things you have no control over, just keep working on your craft in the myriad ways available. I know this isn’t an easy thing to do—I catch myself obsessing about things I have no control over multiple times daily—but the more you can reduce that worry, the more energy you’ll have available for what you sat down to do in the first place.

Happy writing!!

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Photo Credit: Hilton Pond

A few years back—okay it was 18 years almost to the day but who’s counting—I went on a solo backpacking trip on the California Coast, Point Reyes National Seashore to be specific.

Going solo in the backcountry was a pretty regular occurrence in my life back then.

So, what was special about this trip? I decided not to take any food. Well, that’s not entirely true. I took food along but decided before hand not to eat any of it unless I had to.

I’d experimented with fasting at home for health reasons, but never in the wild, and I’d heard that fasting could open you up to your surroundings.

I hiked in five miles, stored my food in an animal-proof locker provided by the National Park Service and left it there for three and a half days.

I walked 8 to 10 miles a day for the next three days. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but I saw a lot of animals: two bobcats, seven deer, a fleeting glimpse of a mountain lion, a seal pup, hundreds of giant salamanders. In short, it was amazing.

But the one sighting that impacted me the most was a small crab that had just shed its shell. It was green and squishy and sat in the inter-tidal zone. Easy prey for a crow or seagull.

In order for that crab to grow it had to make itself vulnerable.

As a writer, how do you grow? How do you make yourself vulnerable?

Maybe you abandon a project that you love and start a new one.

Maybe you keep digging deeper into a story instead of abandoning it.

Maybe you finally send out queries for the manuscript you’ve been cuddling.

Maybe you start reading craft books.

Maybe you stop reading craft books.

Maybe you take the time to tear apart your novel and totally rewrite it even though there is no guarantee that you’ll make it any better.

Maybe you open up your writing to more beta-readers. Or maybe you pull back and work on trusting your inner-voice.

The path to growth is going to be different for everyone, and what you encounter on the path will change over time. I think one of the keys to growing is recognizing the areas where you feel resistance and then exploring that resistance, even if it makes you vulnerable.

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It costs nothing to dream.

And everything not too.



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A couple of days ago I was in Indiana visiting my parents. I was taking a walk down the middle of a narrow tree-lined street when I heard a loud, splatting noise behind me, like someone had dropped twenty gallons of Jello from the tree-tops onto the road. It was loud, people.

I turned around. And behind me, on the road, was a fox squirrel laying limp. I didn’t have my camera with me but you know what they look like.

well-fed fox squirrel

I glanced upward. The nearest branch was at least thirty feet off the ground. Five seconds earlier and I’d have broken that squirrel’s fall with my head.

Anyway, I was pretty sure it was dead but I was still fascinated. I mean, I’ve seen a squirrel fall out of a tree and land on leaves and spruce needles and then run away, but this was pavement.

So, I took a step toward the motionless squirrel. My brain was a mix of sadness for the squirrel, and researcher for my writing. How did it die? Why did it fall? Poor thing. It looks so healthy otherwise.

I took another step toward the squirrel and it started to shake. I turned to my wife and said. “It’s moving.” Is it in pain? Is it having a seizure? What should I do? Am I going to be faced with the possibility of ending its suffering? If I get too close, will it try to bite me like an abandoned seal pup did years ago?

I took another step toward it and it started moving—slowly—very slowly—like slow motion-slowly, toward the base of the tree it’d fallen from. It looks like all its legs are working. It’s kind of shaky, but it’s walking.

Then it did something amazing. It proceeded to climb the very tree it’d fallen from just forty seconds ago.

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In Edward Abbey’s classic, Hayduke Lives, the book opens with a Desert Tortoise being buried under a huge pile of dirt pushed by a giant bull dozer. I thought it was some symbolic statement about the Earth being trashed. That tortoise was history.

I quickly forgot about the tortoise as the story unfolded. But at the end of the book that tortoise crawls out of the dirt and keeps on going.

Obviously, with writing it’s important to keep moving forward. Sometimes it might feel like you are going nowhere fast, like you can’t get your head out of the dirt.

But speed isn’t the point if you’re on this writing journey.

I’m guessing that tortoise stopped and rested in its crawl toward daylight, and maybe it even took a few wrong turns but it made it out of dirt. And then, it kept on going.

This week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll be attending a bunch of free online workshops at WriteOnCon. It’ll be a great way to keep moving forward.

The presentations will be available on the WriteOnCon website afterwards so even if you can’t make any of them at the given times you can still check them out, which is a good deal for me since I live in Alaska and the Conference starts at 2 a.m. my time. Yeah, there’s a good chance I’ll miss the keynote address tomorrow because I’ll be doing this:

What do you do to keep moving forward as a writer? And, when you feel stuck, what do you do to get unstuck? Are you participating in WriteOnCon?

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About a year ago I had a little knee surgery to smooth out a slightly torn meniscus. Last weekend I ran sixteen miles, my longest run since before the surgery. My knee isn’t back to normal, and that three-hour marathon goal I was closing in on a few years ago is looking pretty distant; but I’ll keep on running if I can because I love it. With age, injury, and wear and tear, it’s inevitable that the human body slows down, breaks down.

One thing I love about writing is that barring any major physical or mental impairments, you can keep improving forever.

My recipe for improvement has one simple ingredient: Persistence.

For me, persistence means:

  1. Not wasting whatever amount of time I’ve created in my life to write.
  2. Studying well written novels and craft books and attempting to apply what I’ve learned.
  3. And, to paraphrase Laurie Halse Anderson: asking how I can make what I’ve written better instead of looking at it and saying this is pretty good.

I’ve heard a couple successful writers say that if you don’t have what it takes to write, i.e. talent, you never will. Quit wasting your time. James Scott Bell, in his book, Plot and Structure, referred to this as the Big Lie. He spent several years of his life believing the Big Lie before he realized that he could learn how to write fiction. Now, as you probably know, he’s published over twenty books.

What does persistence look like for you?

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