Right now, my computer backdrop is a simple white-on-black sign that says “I would quit, but I still have people to prove wrong.”
It’s the same thing as persistence, except with some spite in there for good measure. I’ve been a working writer since I was 19; I’m now 40. I’ve gotten one residual check in all that time. None of my books have earned out.
However, I’m further along than a lot of writers. I’m debt-free. I put a down payment on a house with an advance. I’ve seen actors say my words like they were living them. There’s a shelf in my office that has nothing on it but my books. Mine, mine, mine. I got to edit an amazing anthology; I’ve been privileged to write for others’.
Right now, I’m between contracts. I’m splashing around helplessly in the YA contraction, trying to figure out what I love writing that will also sell. My family’s income will probably halve this year, and two books of my heart that went nowhere later, I’m frustrated. Depressed. Demoralized.
Now would be a good time to quit. Get a nice office job and stop playing with imaginary friends. I’m an adult, after all. I got to go to the show. I could stop while I’m ahead, I suppose.
But you know what? I collected rejection letters on my wall until I sold my first novel. I had 1200 I took down and burned in 2007. Not because the hard part was over. It wasn’t– but I moved on to the next phase.
Now I’m a midlist author with little name recognition and no major awards under my belt. I have minor awards and great nominations, but no starred reviews, no royalty checks. No bestseller lists or book challenges or reviews in magazines my grandparents would have read. I’m not as good as I could be. I have voice and place, but man, I need to work out this whole plot thing to reach the next level.
I retired from screenwriting (my day job) in 2011, but I just finished writing a new movie to pay the bills. I’ve picked up write for hire pieces. Short fiction is once again something I’m writing and trying to sell. I sent my agent a list 15 miles long of non-fiction subjects about which I would love to write for hire for tween and teen audiences, if somebody’s buying.
Here I am, back to collecting rejection letters and plastering them on my wall. It’s a new wall, the rejections are different. Scrambling with all that to pay the bills, I’m still working on a new book. I think it’s a worthy one. It won’t shut up and leave me alone. So can’t stop. I won’t stop. I’m not done.
I still have people to prove wrong.
(I originally posted part of this on Metafilter in response to Kameron Hurley’s On Persistence, and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer)