Sometimes procrastination works.
After two years, countless revisions, starts and restarts of a picture book idea that grew into a trilogy, I was still nowhere near the finish line for Book One. I found myself staring at the pages without any idea what the main character was going to do next. I suddenly developed an urgent need to buy paper towels.
While driving to the store, I came across a sign for Tri-County Fitness, a new gym that had opened. There were these big, bold, letters: COMMIT… PERSIST… SUCCEED… which I promptly dismissed it as “jock talk” and continued on.
But the words decided to come along with me and refused to go away. I finally realized why.
Writing a novel requires commitment. You have to agree to stick with it – through good times when you’re getting along, there’s plenty of laughter and the words just flow into the paper. And through the bad times when you’re not getting along so well, no one is smiling and producing a paragraph is more like churning butter. It’s a marriage. When that ring is placed on your finger, the pen is in your hand, divorce is not an option.
But it’s not enough to commit yourself to writing the novel; you must persist. You can never, ever, ever give up. It’s not only a marriage, it’s also a marathon. The beginning of the race, you’re pumped, fueled with adrenaline and the energy of possibilities and ideas. A few chapters, a few miles down the road and you’ve set your stride – 1000 words a day, one chapter, or one scene – everyone has their own pace. And you keep going. You may slow down a little, but you stay the course. Until you hit the wall. You’ve run out of carbohydrates, you’re mind is empty of ideas, and you wonder how to keep moving forward when all you want to do is drop down dead.
How do you keep moving forward? Here’s what worked for me:
1. Index Cards, in plain sight next to my computer, COMMIT…PERSIST…SUCCEED… on one and THIS BOOK WON’T WRITE ITSELF.
2. Mrs. Van Camp’s 4th grade and Mrs. Brown’s 3rd grade classes. I shared the first three chapters with them. Eight and nine year olds know a lot about persistence. Nearly every day I had kids approaching me, asking me “are you done yet?”. They couldn’t wait to read it (bless them all). I had no choice but to finish it.
A finished novel is only one way to define success. A finished novel is not a published novel, yet. An agent hasn’t recognized its promise and taken me on as a client, yet. An editor of a publishing house has not chosen to include it in their fall list, yet. One hundred people who I don’t know and aren’t related to me have not purchased the book, yet. It hasn’t been reviewed by a leading critic, yet. It hasn’t been listed on the New York Times best seller list, yet. Those successes require more commitment…more persistence…