Mark Terry

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hurdles & Obstacles

October 9, 2009
Once upon a time, way back in junior high, I was thinking about running track and the coach made a comment to me about running hurdles. Which I told him I thought wasn't for me. He said the thing about hurdles was you weren't jumping, you were merely stepping over an obstacle in your way.

(Uh-huh. Still, my proportions have never been quite so forgiving. I don't have long legs, even for my height, which ain't all that high).

Yesterday's post made me think a lot about the ups and downs of writing. How we as writers pretty much brag about the number of rejections we got on our way to publication. I've written before that in the freelance world rejection is pretty much a way of life. Typical stats I've read and seem to be more or less true for me is that for every 12 queries I'll get 1 acceptance. I know that on my way to getting my fiction agent (yes, I have 2 agents, one for fiction, one for nonfiction), I racked up dozens--pretty close to 100--rejections. [I'm pleased to say that in some ways this gets a bit easier. Irene doesn't handle nonfiction. So when I was hired to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, I went out looking for an agent who handled nonfiction. The second agent to look at it took us on as clients. That said, it's primarily because the proposal is good, not because the writer is good. I wrote a nonfiction book proposal last year that got shopped unsuccessfully to a couple dozen agents, but in this case, their analysis of the problems with the idea I happened to agree with, so I gave up on it. In nonfiction, the idea and the author platform is key. And just this week we had a contract offer for the nonfiction book].

Sometimes we fly over the hurdles (my money's on the kangaroo). Sometimes, well, not so much (ouch).

Yet, I think hurdles and obstacles are going to happen constantly to us as writers. And the key is not to get destroyed or so defeated that we quit. I've had three publishers either go under or drop me. But I kept plugging away and I'm back with 2 more novels coming out. In the case of this nonfiction book proposal, the agent wasn't able to sell it, but after giving it some thought, doing some research, having my two collaborators nag a friend, I found a couple more places to market to and voila, book contract.

2009 hasn't been a great year for writing, although it's been okay. But I kept sending out queries--increased them, as a matter of fact--and things picked up (finally).

I know we're always hearing about how persistence is one of the key elements of being a successful writer. Hell, I'd go so far as to say damn near having an obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the key elements to having a successful writing career. You. Can. Not. Quit.

As I mentioned in Rusch's column yesterday, if you try to perceive your writing career and goals as a continuum, then the obstacles and hurdles and setbacks (rather than use the word "failure") become part of the process. Not necessarily a pleasant part of the process, but just part of the process.

I have a friend who was forced out of his job earlier this year over a scandal. It was the absolute worse time for that to happen in a field that's unforgiving of this sort of thing. I'm sure he's feeling pretty low. I'm trying to help. What I haven't said to him, because I don't think it's quite the right time, is that you need to imagine where you'll be in 5 years and try to imagine what this period will seem like. Does he really think that things will be this bleak indefinitely? Well, although I suppose it's possible, I don't think so. He'll get a job somewhere doing something. He'll get back on his feet and continue on with his life. It may not be what he expected or wanted, but given his overall good nature and skills, he'll rebuild. Easy for me to say, I guess, but whenever I have a setback I try to imagine what I'll think about it in 5 years. Will I even remember?

Anyway, thoughts?


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

It's true that losing my job back in 1994 was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It led to my being able to work at home and having enough time to co-write some books. So some of those bumps can be beneficial. My problem now is that I am not motivated to write. Unfortunately I don't seem to have that "have to write" gene. The number of books you've written seems amazing to me. The more you write the more chances you give yourself to succeed.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I admire you for your perseverance. That's good advice! I'm really sorry about your friend, though. That's awful.

I'm not happy with how much money we have, at the moment, but I know that I will look back at this time of my life and treasure it as one of the best things that ever happened to me. My mother, however, sees it as a horrible failure, LOL. But I'm quite happy, even with a dripping ceiling, LOL.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

You DO read this blog regularly, right? So you know how whiny I can get about writing fiction?!!!

9:49 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Or something. Sometimes I just think I'm nuts. But I doubt I'll look back at my life and say, "Well, I'm sorry those books were published."

As for my friend, I could write a book. I hadn't talked to him in 7 years, essentially since he quit work. Talk about a meltdown. He was chronically unhappy on that job, and one day he came in to work, worked for about an hour, wrote I QUIT on his ID badge in big black letters, threw it on his desk and walked out, never to be seen again. And he had caller ID so he screened all his phone calls and I never did talk to him again.

For most of my time working there we were best of friends. He helped us move, for God sakes. He was smart, articulate, funny, and weirdly cheerful for someone who was, essentially, a depressive, which is where we came apart as friends. Because I had the same problem with hating my job and being unhappy with work, but the difference was I had a home life and family and many other things in my life I was happy with. So we really started to drift away from each other because I really did find it true that if you want to think positive, surround yourself with positive people. And there was something about hanging with him listening to him gripe about how horrible everything was that was dragging me down too.

I'm sorry he died so young--47 of a massive heart attack while at work for a camera store that was going out of business--and I can only hope that in the last 7 years he found some things in his life he was happy with.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

The scariest thought is that I'll be exactly here in five years.
They say that Saturn leaves Virgo on October 29th and things will improve. As I read my latest rejection letter that's hard to believe.
I think the bumps in the road, the scandals, and the lowest parts of our lives are what shape us. It's how we handle it and the fact that we do that makes us a success.

3:55 PM  

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