Perseverance

Perseverance is one of those it-depends virtues. Persevering in doing good? Praiseworthy.  Persevering in doing something wrong? Doubly wrong. Persevering in doing something stupid? Extra stupid.

i quit
So perhaps perseverance is more of a magnifier than a virtue in and of itself. “It might have been a stupid thing to do, but at least he persevered with it,” – said no one ever.

But perseverance is an important quality, nonetheless, because you won’t get anywhere without it. It is cousin to self-control and part and parcel of being a grownup. None of which makes it easy. Trust me – I struggle with this one as much as the next person.

For me, at least, it’s not a problem with quitting too easily. Not-deciding to call it quits and let go is easy for me – it doesn’t require me to do anything at all! But that’s a passive perseverance: it doesn’t actually get you anywhere (except buried under a pile of unfinished projects. Ask me how I know…).

Dickensdream
It’s positive perseverance that I struggle with. When the project sits on my desk, or by my chair, large and looming, its unfinished-ness bulging in all directions, it’s easier to just do something else. After all, with a big long-term project, what’s one day here or there? Except every day is, when you look at it, just one day.

It’s so easy to decide that the amount of work you can do in that one day won’t even be noticeable next to the enormous mound of work remaining (which may well be true) and that it’s not worth the struggle of doing it; it won’t make any difference (which is false).

Back in May 2013, I decided that I was going to get a move on with the WIP or it would take me til 2020 just to finish the first draft. Several plans later (I’ll spare you all the links, but it’s all in the archives if you’d like to watch it unfold in fascinated horror) I finished the first draft, in December 2014. It is now November 2016, and I am perhaps a quarter of the way through the second draft.

DraftingNot Good Enough. Of course, there have been distractions, delays (moving house, anyone?) and other projects, but still, for a full-time allegedly professional writer, it stinks.

I have, therefore, decided to move my perseverance from the ‘passive’ setting to the ‘active’ setting by attempting a sort-of NaNoWriMo – a PseuDoNaNo, one could call it – in which I endeavour to write 50,000 words of second draft (should be about half the total, I calculate) during the month of November. 2,500 words a day, Monday to Friday.

The provisional plan after that is to rewrite the last quarter (the easiest bit to write, the first time around) in December, give it a polish, and then get it out to beta readers early in the new year.

Johann Peter Hasenclever - Das Lesekabinett - Google Art Project
I have no idea how long the path to publication will take (editing, typesetting, cover design etc etc etc) but I am hoping that the last sun of 2017 will set on me as a published writer. (More published than I am now, anyway.)

I have been working on my preparations and creating buttresses for my weak points (most notably the dreadful twin habits of writing before I think, and writing a scene on and on til it dies of exhaustion, which were between them largely responsible for the bloated size of the First Draft) so I think I have a good chance of succeeding, as long as I – you guessed it – persevere.

“See first that the design is wise and just;
that ascertained, pursue it resolutely.
Do not for one repulse forego the purpose
that you resolved to effect,” as Shakespeare didn’t say.

I intend to keep blogging throughout November – though not, you will be happy to hear, with endless updates on the writing process – and I promise I will let you know how it all went come December.

snail-1447233_640
Wish me luck! or rather, no, wish me perseverance.

Bird By Bird

by Anne Lamott.

This is so not your usual book on how to be a writer, but I did find it enormously encouraging. (Don’t take my word for it, read it yourself. Really.)

For example, that feeling you get when you finish your first draft (at last! hurrah!) and then look back and realise it’s so bad you now live in terror of dying before you can fix it, because people might think you honourably disembowelled yourself from the shame of producing such putridity.

In short, Anne Lamott says it’s ok to be pathologically self-doubting and insecure as a writer. She even suggests that this is quite common among writers, along with such traits as hypochondria and melodramatic tendencies. (Moi?)

She’s witty and funny and erudite and casually well-read (“I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab”) and really easy to read.
Most of all, she is encouraging.

The flailing first draft, she says is “the child’s draft… let it romp all over the place”.

The writing is on the wall
No-one will see it. Unless you die before the rewrite. (Try to avoid this.)

And as for all the shouting and hissing in your head (not the characters, but the voice Julia Cameron identifies as the Censor), Anne Lamott recognises this can be more than one voice. And here’s what she suggests you do with them:

Mouse in a jar

That’s right.
Shrink them down to mouse size and plunk them in a jar. Let them squeak as much as they please in there – you’re not listening.

Another interesting suggestion: “write a book back to V.S. Naipaul or Margaret Atwood or Wendell Berry or whoever it is who most made you want to write, whose work you most love to read. Make it as good as you can.”

Who would that be for you? On the most-love-to-read side for me would be perhaps P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett. (Sir, Dame & Sir. What does that tell you?)

Have you ever experienced that anguished jealous ache of reading the perfect sentence and not having written it? Who did?

S812 - Green with envy

Crucially for those of us who frequently enjoy the writing less than the having written, Lamott points out that you do actually have to want to write – wanting to be published is not going to cut it. (Publication is not the answer, whatever the question of your life.)

Perseverance is tremendously important: “God is not a short-order cook”. She quotes E.L Doctorow: “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Lost in the woods

I wondered a while back whether each step we take, momentous as it may seem, is only to pull us up to where we can take the next.
I wonder it now more than ever.
I wonder what’s just beyond the headlights.

[Disclaimer: once again, I borrowed this book from the library – nobody paid me and I paid nobody. I consider this makes me a maximally unbiased reviewer. Others may differ.]

Do You Believe?

When did you start to believe in yourself as a writer?

I always knew I was good with words (ok, I can still remember asking my mother if sentences ended with a capital as well as started with them, but that was decades ago now).

Learning to Write

There were the occasional pieces in school publications, but that’s hardly conclusive evidence. You don’t necessarily have to be good to be published in a school mag, you just have to be better than the competition.

I think the first time I can remember seriously thinking of myself as a writer was a bit over twelve years ago now – it was supposed to be one of those school things where you tag along with a grown-up for a bit of work experience.

People work on computers at the Busy Internet computer center in Accra

Trouble was, we lived in the back of beyond where almost everyone was a hunter-gatherer (and distinctly averse to taking along annoying little white kids who might do something stupid like hurt themselves or scare the food away). The exceptions were my parents, and I was sufficiently formed as a person by then to know that their line of work was Not For Me.

So we had to Make Do and Make It Up.

My mother asked me what I would like to do, and I said I liked “writing, but-” and she said, well then, you can write an article. I will be your manager, you will have fixed hours (bit of a foreign concept in my life at that point) and you will write an article which you will then submit, etc etc. (Or words to that effect.)

Office Hours

I sat. I wrote.
I submitted the piece to my mother for her editorial approval, and the piece was eventually published in the in-house magazine of the organisation my parents worked with. Compliments ensued (I’m fairly sure they were intended as compliments, anyway), a cutting was made, and that was that.

But the writing bug had bit.

She scanned the page...

In one fell swoop my mother had moved writing in my mind from being something enjoyable but regrettably limited (rather like time spent lying about daydreaming) to being something that happened in the real world. Being a writer went from pie in the sky to an actual possibility. Yes, there were the hours, and the editor, and the annoying people calling you cute, but there was the writing!

The Dream

It was like telling a kid they could get a job as a professional ice-cream taster. Money for jam. (Well, jam, anyway. Negligible money.)

Mind you, my mother doesn’t hold with telling children pretty little lies – Santa Claus, for example. My parents never tried to tell me he was real, and this was a good thing, because living in a country with ‘security problems’ does not shape a child into the sort of person who takes ‘strange man is watching you and will creep into your bedroom while you’re asleep’ at all well.

creepy Santa

So she wasn’t going to tell me that writing jobs were easy to come by, and I did flirt with other ideas over the years – medicine, law, landscape architecture…

But I kept thinking of myself as a writer. I kept writing, here and there. I even earned a bit of money by my writing (slightly awkward when I was sent a cheque and had no bank account to deposit it into).

Throughout my life, my mother has been the one who has taught me to question my assumptions that I can’t do something, that a particular course of action is not open to me.
Often it is, but at a price I am not prepared to pay.
But sometimes it is a price I am prepared to pay, and the world opens out before me in a way I didn’t believe it could.

"Opened the door of faith..."

So if I never said it before: thank you.