In our Breaking In column in Writer’s Digest magazine, we talk with debut authors—such as Lyra Selene, author of Amber & Dusk—about how they did it, what they learned and why you can do it, too. Here, Selene discusses the importance of perseverance when the going gets tough.
by Lyra Selene
Let me tell you about the night I almost quit writing for good.
I was in Texas visiting family for the holidays. You can picture the scene: lots of food, plenty of laughter, a little good-natured sibling rivalry to keep things interesting. My phone dinged with an email notification. I knew I shouldn’t check it, but when I saw it was from my agent, my pulse ratcheted. I tapped it before I could change my mind. Hope lapped against a rising tide of disappointment—it was a rejection.
Another rejection. The fifth that month. The eighth in total. It felt like the trillionth, though, when I counted up all the rejections for all four of my full-length, completed, polished novels, written over the course of five-and-a-half soul-bruising years. Writing has never been just a job for me; it’s pouring something of my heart out into the world. Having industry professionals read that art, recognize it as art, and still tell me it wasn’t good enough, had started to break my spirit.
I made it through dinner, but midway through White Christmas something inside me cracked. I remember sitting with my sisters on the floor of my niece’s darkened playroom and sobbing into my wine. I’m done, I kept saying. I’m so tired of hearing no.
But I didn’t quit. I wiped off my tears. I got up off the floor. The next morning, waiting for my flight home, I grimly cracked open my laptop and re-read the rejection letter, scouring it for any useful feedback I could use in what seemed like an inevitable revision before re-submission.
Three weeks later, I got the offer for Amber & Dusk, my debut novel releasing in November. Its publication date will mark just over seven years since I started writing seriously.
If this game has a name, it has to be perseverance.
I’ve written all my life—from incredibly detailed diaries to elaborately illustrated short stories to painstakingly-typed royal histories—but it never really occurred to me that I could be a writer. It wasn’t until a year after I graduated college, when I was bartending 40 hours a week and sending my resume to every nonprofit in D.C., that an opportunity to write full-time presented itself. I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize was that I was jumping into a roiling black sea of rejection, with no floaties. And by the way, there were sharks.
Buoyed by delusions of grandeur, I gleefully penned my first few short stories, and incubated the idea for my first novel. And then I wrote my first novel. My first novel! I had arrived! Visions of sugarplums (or more accurately, six-figure book deals) danced in my head. I sent out a deluge of query letters full of self-deprecating jokes, vague stakes, and rhetorical questions. I got back a corresponding torrent of form rejection letters.
The rest of the story isn’t hard to guess. A potent cocktail of pride and shame and competitiveness and grit made me soldier on, through several more full-length manuscripts and their incumbent rewrites and revisions. Tens of rejection letters became hundreds of rejection letters.
I persevered. I learned to celebrate the milestones, the small victories that keep you going. The first full manuscript request. Being selected for PitchWars. Getting more agent requests. Signing with my agent! Finally—finally!—getting that call that someone wanted to buy my book.
But this isn’t about selling a book. Not really. It’s not even about seeing that book on shelves, although I literally cannot wait for that. It’s about the long game we call writing. It’s about perseverance.
Perseverance is taking a thing you love and turning it into work, and then continuing to do it. Perseverance is the days when writing feels like passionless drudgery. Perseverance is killing your darlings. Perseverance is banging your hopes and dreams against the wall of harsh reality until they’re bruised and bloodied. Perseverance is hearing no so many times it starts to sound like your own name.
Perseverance is also love. Perseverance is adoring your terrible first drafts because you wrote them. Perseverance is devouring every ink-stained syllable like cake, even when it tastes like ashes. Perseverance is unflinching wonder and untrammeled hope and soaring expectations.
The only way to fail at your dreams is to abandon them.
So persevere instead.
Read more in the October 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.
And subscribe to get WD all year long.