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[process] Perseverance - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2011-11-29 05:26
Subject: [process] Perseverance
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, child, health, personal, process, writing
I was emailing with someone yesterday and mentioned that it was eleven years from the time I workshopped my first story (summer, 1990) to the time I made my first sale (spring, 2001). (See my Facebook thread on this for a ton of comments from various folks.) In that time, I wrote one or two or sometimes three stories a month, sent out hundreds of submissions, and workshopped twice a month for most of the decade. That's the value of perseverance, right there.

It still amuses me that now, ten years after that first sale and twenty-one years after I got serious about trying to be an author, some people still seem to think I was some sort of overnight success. That's a long damned night. I am who I am today in my writing life and in the field because of years of toiling alone in complete obscurity, then slowly engaging and emerging into the company of writers as I earned my place with my efforts.

Do I have talent? In all honesty, I rather think I do. But talent wouldn't have gotten me anywhere without all those years of perseverance.

Do I have an easy, extroverted personality that helps me fit in and get along with damned near everybody who bothers to try to get along with me? Well, yes, but that's an artefact of my middle age and has nothing to do with the millions of words of first draft I've written. I was for many years young, socially awkward and unpublished.

Do I have good connections in the field? Yes, now after twenty-one years of effort, countless hours at conventions and workshops, and many publications in most of our major and independent markets. I didn't get published because I know people. I know people because I got published. A lot of times over the years.

Everything I've earned, my publications, my public persona in the field, my network of friends and associates: it all comes down to perseverance. Writing. Constantly. Last year, with six months of chemotherapy and a round of liver surgery slowing me down, not to mention a full-time job I never took off from during my illness and a teen-aged daughter in the house, I still wrote a quarter million words of first draft, and roughly that much again in blogging. Which wouldn't be a bad total for a full-time writer working with no major distractions. This year's numbers will be fairly similar, under fairly similar circumstances. That's what keeps earning me my place at the table. Not talent, or being fun at parties and a dab hand with a microphone, or knowing a bunch of writers and editors. Writing.

Writing.

If you want to see your work published, be on panels, emcee the Hugos, get to know your writing heroes, all the fun stuff that goes with being a working writer, then, well, write. And write more. I've been doing it for two decades, and am still just as serious and hard-working as I was back at the beginning. More serious and hard-working, frankly. 1990 me would have been appalled at the prospect of writing an entire 250,000 words in year. 2011 me is appalled at writing only 250,000 words in a year.

Write more. Keep writing. Everything else flows from that.

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inflectionpoint
User: inflectionpoint
Date: 2011-11-29 14:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is good to hear. I've got other goals, but yeah. Just keep at it and keep focused and eventually, very eventually it will happen.

Very curious about how your personality is an artifact of your middle age. Can you say more?

(I became more extroverted when I left a hellish call center job, so I know many things can fundamentally shift a person's personality. It was spooky but I'm not going back...)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2011-11-29 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Very curious about how your personality is an artifact of your middle age. Can you say more?

This probably merits a blog post of its own, rather than a comment reply, but in very short form, I was a pretty introverted and clueless child, teen and young adult. Sometime in my mid-to-late thirties I finally shed a lot of those inhibitions and that social blindness and tuned in to the people around me. I actually credit my personal growth to the effort I put into my writing, but that's probably somewhat arguable. I suspect it was an effect of delayed maturity more than anything.
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inflectionpoint
User: inflectionpoint
Date: 2011-11-29 15:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'd love to see a blog post about this from you, if your resources permit.

I survived some nasty childhood stuff that shaped my personality and left me with some maladaptive coping methods. Much effort lately led me to be able to become much happier and more productive.

I'm fascinated by the positive positive feedback cycles that can occur in humans - I've done it myself and seen a few others do it, and I love to get the details of How They Did That.
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Jay Lake: jay-1976
User: jaylake
Date: 2011-11-29 15:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:jay-1976
I'll let it roll around in my head and see if I can't speak to this more fully sometime in the next few days. My childhood wasn't nasty, by and large, but was marked by early parental divorce, a few unexpected custody changes, and attending nine different schools on three continents over the twelve years of my primary and secondary education.

And yes, the adult changes have definitely been a positive feedback cycle that continues to this day.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2011-11-30 00:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting. If anything, I have become more introverted over the years (I'm 52) rather than the opposite.

I don't think one's level of intro/extroversion has anything to do with one's maturity, to be honest, and it kind of bothers me to hear someone say so in that manner.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2011-11-30 00:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think one's level of intro/extroversion has anything to do with one's maturity, to be honest, and it kind of bothers me to hear someone say so in that manner.

I shouldn't think so as a general rule, given that introversion/extroversion seems to be nearly an intrinsic personality characteristic, but in my case this was definitely so. I became more extroverted as I matured and better grasped the rules of social intercourse, so to speak. Presumably I always had the impulse to extroversion, but for years was very bad at expressing myself or knowing how to fit in. That's what maturity gave me.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2011-11-30 02:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
So it was the development of social skills which allowed you to express your extroversion productively that came with maturity, not a change in your basic orientation.

That makes much more sense to me.

Social grace is definitely a mark of maturity.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2011-11-29 15:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Preach it!

Years ago, I met George R. R. Martin at a convention. He laughed about how he was being called an "overnight success" after twenty years in the business. Therefore, I posit that twenty years is the standard unit of overnight success. If so, I'm in year 15. Getting close!
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torreybird
User: torreybird
Date: 2011-11-29 17:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Preach it, indeed!

I'm looking forward to your potential post on how middle-agedness affects your personality. I credit the beginning of my own middle-age for the realization of that persistence and tenacity are not only skills in their own right, but that using those skills intelligently can improve almost everything else I do.

[edited to fix fixables]
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ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2011-11-29 20:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Very well said.
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W. Lotus: Photography II
User: wlotus
Date: 2011-11-29 20:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Photography II
I LOVE what you say here and have shared it with my cousin, whom I call The Author. This is just as applicable to photography (my passion) as it is to writing. It is easy for me to fall into the discouraging trap of thinking I should be famous and well known just because a handful of other people were famous and well known without a year or five of starting out. Thank you for the reminder to focus on my passion and whatever else will come will come.
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pingback_bot
User: pingback_bot
Date: 2011-11-30 01:49 (UTC)
Subject: November 30, 2011 Links and Plugs
User charlesatan referenced to your post from November 30, 2011 Links and Plugs saying: [...] Lake on Perseverance [...]
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-11-30 12:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great article.

I'm in a weird situation in that I've gotten very close to publication on my first draft of my novel with a respected publisher, though I've no idea if I'll actually get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It does worry me a little that if I don't make it this time, I won't have the tenacity to keep trying and keep trying for years. I think I will, though. I'm nothing if not stubborn, and I've had this little burst of confidence.
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