Among the most influential books in my adolescence was BE HERE NOW, a groovy meditation on detachment, openness to the universe and love, by Baba Ram Dass. In it, another phrase, Go with the Flow, pushed its aimlessness onto my heart.
With my inexperience in life at age 15, I misunderstood the power of these concepts. I thought their point was to send out good energy into the world — by thinking positive thoughts — and to sit quietly contemplating my belly button lint.
Fast forward 30+ years to this past weekend. On Friday, I spent the day with aspiring writers (and wonderful readers) at the Tony Hillerman Mystery Writers Conference. It’s one of the premier mystery-writing events in the nation.
Then, on Saturday, I watched my youngest child earn a junior black belt in Tae Kwon Do. That afternoon, I also earned my black tip. This means I’ll be eligible to test for my black belt sometime late next year.
So, in two days, I had many examples of determination and its role in creating success.
Every week, I meet people somewhere on the continuum of the writer’s journey to publication. Some folks dream and don’t go any further than that. There are those who start project after project but never, ever finish. Others complete manuscripts and tell me, "Oh, I wouldn’t dare let anyone else look at my work." Still others send out queries, get rejections and give up right there — or, wrong-headedly refuse to take useful input — and stop growing as artists.
At the Hillerman conference, you could’ve summed up almost every session, every presentation — about craft, marketing or the writer’s life — with these words: perseverance, determination, hard work and luck. David Morrell spoke about them. Tony Hillerman and Steve Brewer did too. The agents and editors at the con went down that road as well.
I moderated a panel with Margaret Coel, Steven Havill and Joseph Badal. "Sinkholes on the road to publication," was my title. I told the SRO audience that I hoped our session would inoculate them as they pursued their own dreams. Yep. You guessed it. Behind every horror story, at the edge of every success, those same words — perseverance, determination, hard work and luck — popped up.
You’d think every member of the conference faculty had met beforehand and had decided to push the same agenda. But that didn’t happen. We’d all come to our conclusions through living our lives, through attaining the successes we’d attained so far and working toward more.
I used to think that the ideas of Being here now and Going with the flow were the polar opposites of taking action, setting goals and striving higher. Now I think they walk hand-in-hand.
Being here now means watching and paying attention to the present. If we practice that in our life, we’ll be able to identify opportunities right here that we may have missed if our sights are only set on the future. By working hard now, we’ll keep on track and create many of those opportunities (or attract them) AND those magnificent unforeseen boons that we call "luck."
To me, this picture of a ladder at Acoma pueblo in New Mexico from the cedarmesa website symbolizes this path of mindfulness in the present and aiming for that gorgeous blue-sky future.
Today, in our discussion, I hope you’ll share some of your examples of successes — or of luck — flowing from determination and perseverance.
Mondays are great days to be inspired.
I would share some, but I can’t.
I’m on strike.
Damn you, Paul. I want some of the love.
Could you just think about them really, really hard? Maybe we’ll pick up on something.
I love this post, Pari. I definitely believe in divine luck, but also think you make your own. Attitude, enthusiasm, and perseverance all contribute. An unwillingness to settle is helpful too.
Getting my agent was one of those equation stories. I knew who I wanted, researched him, decided how to approach him, planned a trip to a conference to meet him. That trip fell through and I was forced to try the old fashioned way – I was writing him a query letter when he got in contact with me through my PM website.
Serendipity? Absolutely. But I’d also gone to great lengths to make sure he was the right agent for me. What’s meant to be, right?
There have been things I love that I’ve given up on, and regretted. Writing won’t ever be one of them.
J.T.,What a wonderful story. I firmly believe that we do have tremendous influence on our fates. At the very least, we can work on our attitudes — and that simple act brings its own rewards.
Pari, I’m an example of all of those categories of “almost was” that you listed.
I dreamed of writing, but didn’t write.I started a project but didn’t finish it.I finished a project but didn’t want to show it to anyone.I sent out queries and got rejected.
But I did take good input and revised. And I did keep trying.
Guess I’m making my way up that ladder, one mistake at a time.
Pari-Wonderful post today. Thanks for the dose of encouragement!
Louise,What kept you going? I’m always interested in that. How did you keep that drive?
How goes YOUR writing?
I still believe in dtermination and luck in writing. I’ve seen it too much.
I think Joe Konrath has a nice remark: what do you call a writer who doesn’t give up? Published. I think that says it all.
Simon,You’re a perfect example of Konrath’s adage.
Thanks for reminding all of us of it.
Pari, in my case, I kept trying because of kudos received from a valued friend. I trusted her judgement more than my own, and she said “This is good. Keep going.”
Konrath’s pronouncement is illogical. It also give false hope to many writers who will never make the grade no matter how determined they are. Determination does not necessarily make for a good writer, nor guarantee publication.
Louise,I think that’s what kept me going in writing mysteries. A trusted expert and her opinion helped me persevere.
Elaine,Of course you’re right. Not everyone who persists can or will get published. But, those who give up early won’t even have the chance . . .
Every time I go to a writer’s conference, I wonder about the balance between encouraging and discouraging. I err on the side of optimism; people need dreams. Of course, some of those can turn mighty bitter, too.
Not to pick, but a lack of determination and perseverance assures only one thing — failure. So Konrath isn’t entirely illogical. I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment, though obviously there will be those folks who aren’t going to make it who try. But God bless them for trying.
I tell unpublished authors this same thing — they have to work hard and never give up. I also tell them that they MUST learn the industry. If they understand that not every book written gets published, that there are fantastic authors who lose their agents and houses, that even the best writers don’t always have things handed to them on a platter, they will understand that there are no guarantees in this industry.
And if they get 100 rejections, perhaps they’ll know to move on to another book, rather than giving up completely.
J.T.,Your comments echo what the writers said at the Hillerman conference. When you have David Morrell and Margaret Coel talking about perseverance too, when Tony Hillerman talks about successes and failures, you realize that the one common demoninator is determination and an unwillingness to give up — no matter what the odds.
However, all of them also gave examples of lessons learned from mistakes — and the key is that lessons were learned rather than butting their heads against something to prove THEY were right.
I think a lot of writers get stuck being artistes rather than listening.
Re: Elaine – True, determination alone won’t get you published. A lack of determination will definitely keep you from getting published. No one wanted to be a symphonic musician more than I did, and no one worked harder. It didn’t work. I got over it.
To bring out a couple of hoary cliches: Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Trouble is, you never know when opportunity will knock, so you have to be eternally prepared.
Luck also won’t make up for a lack of talent. On the other hand, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
Right on, Dana.