Kate Flora: As many of you know, I spent ten years in the unpublished writers’ corner, eight before I got an agent and two more before my first book saw the light. It was a hard ten years, a decade that many aspiring authors find so discouraging they give up. It is very hard to stay on track, to keep writing and rewriting, when all the system offers in return in rejection. If I weren’t a stubborn Yankee, I probably would have quit, too.
It’s hard to call yourself a writer even if you’ve answered the call to write. If you admit that you’re writing, the first question often asked is: Are you published? Have I read anything you’ve written? It’s hard to answer that you’re not yet published. I used to give my students a writing prompt involving being at a party and being asked if they were published, and when the answer was no, the questioner walked away.
I used to ask my students questions to help them understand themselves as writers, and to give them insight into their habits with regard to their writing.
Did they give themselves a dedicated time to write? Were they faithful about it?
Did they have a place to write where they could be undisturbed, a place that supported their desire to write, or did they write at the kitchen table surrounded by family or household demands?When did they do their assignments, and were they willing to give writing the time or did they tend to blow it off if something else was offered?
I used to give them a sign that read: Not Now, I’m Writing. I used to tell that only they would know whether the sign needed to go on the outside of their writing space door, to keep people away or on the inside to remind them that they needed to stay there and write.
It’s a sad fact that as writers, we have to be our own cheerleaders. We have to be the ones who believe in the importance of our writing, of our passion for storytelling. Often, we have to defend that against the demands of our jobs, our families, and our other interests.
I tell aspiring writers that waiting for the fluttery little muse to land on their shoulders and inspire them to write doesn’t usually work. I use the dreaded word “discipline” as often as I use the word “inspiration.” Because if you don’t make the choice to have a dedicated time to write, even on the days when the writing is gravel, you won’t be there when the muse arrives, when the characters take off and begin talking to you, when your story comes so fast you can barely type the words, and when the process is so exciting it leaves you breathless.
You have the right to write because it matters to you, even if getting published is hard. The first relationship is between you and your story. It’s a challenge to acquire the habit of rewriting, or shaping that story so it is the best it can be. But that’s your job, if you want to be a writer, because, cliché though it may be, writing is both inspiration and perspiration.
And even when you have a work that is a polished as you can make it, no one is ever going to knock on the door and demand to see your work. Which is why even if you’ve opened yourself to inspiration, applied discipline, and embraced rewrite, you’re going to need the hide of an alligator to deal with the world of publishing.
But developing the hide of an alligator? That’s for another day.