I was hoping for something more specific at the time, but now I see she couldn’t have chosen better words, because if there’s any advice a writer needs, it’s to be persistent. Persist in learning your craft, persist in following your obsession, persist in seeking publication. Persist, persist, persist.
I started sending out stories and poems when I was fourteen, and I was rejected throughout my adolescence. Later, I got a psychology degree, but kept writing. Then I got married and had a baby, got divorced and worked free-lance in PR, and kept writing. Eventually, I figured out that writing was what I kept doing.
I didn’t do it for the fame or money, because there was none. Pure and simple, writing owned me, and determined every decision I made. It was the only realm where I was willing not only to give myself fully to the bliss of the task, but also to slog away at the awful bits, like taking criticism, and organizing lists of agents, and rejection.
In my mid-thirties, with five unpublished novels behind me, I started writing what would become the ‘Fear’ series – futuristic, paranormal stories featuring Jaguar Addams, a telepath who rehabs criminals by making them face their fears. I wrote them fast and furiously, completely owned by this character, this world, these plots. And every single story was rejected. Repeatedly.
I knew why. At around 40 pages each, they were just too long. Clearly, they all wanted to grow up to be novels. But writing novels meant throwing myself deeper into the pit, and all the while my inner critic – and my mother – were scolding me that this was a waste of time and shouldn’t I be taking care of my family, cleaning my house, getting a real job?
I had a choice to make – keep doing what I did, or walk away.
I kept writing.
Soon after, I met an editor who published the first three. Now I’m celebrating publication of the fifth in the series, The Green Memory of Fear, and the sixth will come out later this year, so I’m thinking that was the right decision. But like all tasks worth doing – marriage, raising children, building houses, changing the world - I had to allow it to own me without knowing the outcome. I had to consent to both the bliss and the slog.
My brother, a musician, once advised an aspiring singer, “Don’t do it unless you have to.”
I’d say the same to writers, but then I’d add, if you have to, commit fully. Learn your craft thoroughly. Keep writing until you get it right.
Most of all, write to serve the story, rather than expecting it to serve you.
Barbara Chepaitis is author of eight published novels and two nonfiction books. Her most recent novel is The Green Memory of Fear, fifth book in the ‘fear’ series featuring Jaguar Addams. She is also director of the fiction writing program at Western College of Colorado’s Master’s program in creative writing.