Thursday, June 7, 2018

Perseverance for the Long Game by Joy Preble

When I do school visits or present at conferences, I talk frequently about perseverance. Never give up. Expect rejection and failure and keep on anyway. Understand that the universe will put all sorts of obstacles in your way that will make it easy to stop writing or to doubt yourself. That, as many of us will write about this month, there will be family trauma and crisis and jobs lost and health compromised and loved ones lost and relationships shattered and dozens of other things that make life--much less the creative life--feel like an impossible slog. Sometimes we will indeed be able to save ourselves with the work--lose ourselves in the process of story writing. I did that when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer back in 2010. I finished my second book because it felt like the one thing I could control. And then, in the way of things, surgery went well, I was cancer free, the book was done and boom, my editor left abruptly and this book that had saved me in many regards, floundered because the person who had championed it was gone and a different struggle of perseverance ensued. I've written about that a great deal so if you want the full story, you can find it in my personal author blog.

But sometimes we don't keep going quite so fiercely. Sometimes we wallow and wander and let ourselves get distracted and lose our way. There are many reasons for it and I say that sometimes, that's okay. Let's call it playing the long game. This may not seem at all like perseverance, but I say it is. You give up on a project or shelve it for now, or take a great deal longer than you ever expected. You find other things to fill the well and even -- yes--imagine a life where you just calmly go to the day job and don't write for a living at all. You come home and maybe you go out or you invite friends in or you and the significant other go play trivia at your friend's bar or cook a meal together or watch a movie or possibly just sit outside and do not much at all but have a conversation. Or maybe you are simply trying to get through each day.

I'm surfacing from just such a 'break'. A manuscript I believed in strongly wasn't working the way it needed to or the way my editor wanted. My husband's job situation had changed drastically. I'd been writing full time from home for five years and I needed structure again. And okay, I also needed a steady income, which my writing had only occasionally provided. The possibility that I might never rise above the mid list was making me cranky and sad even as a new book was coming into the world and as I was forging out a steady set of gigs doing school visits, conference presentations, workshop teaching and keynotes. My head was still in the game.  I still felt that writing was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me professionally.

But I was... tired. Not quite burned out, but close. And a little broke. Distracted by the endless crazy of world events. (Seriously, who isn't?) Struggling to find the real book I wanted to write. And scared that perseverance wasn't enough.

So when it was somehow miraculously offered to me (I do believe in miracles. I do believe that we need to always be on the lookout for things that are looking for us),  I took a part time job as the Children's Specialist/Buyer at a wonderful indie bookstore.  And here's the thing. It wasn't easy. I was learning a zillion new tasks, a side of the publishing industry that I had only some understanding of. I had to break out my math skills. Let's just say they were rusty. I had never worked in retail, hadn't operated a cash register since my summer at McDonald's freshman year in college. I was suddenly face with a 40-60 minute commute each way. And I was having to adjust and balance writing time in ways I hadn't done in a long time. I'm still struggling with that, but I'm getting better at it.

I was learning a whole new set of facts about the publishing industry, not the least of which was that so very much of what happens with a book is absolutely out of our control. I was remembering all the things I adored about books and writing. I was getting to work with reps as a buyer and peeking behind the scenes at what they were pushing each season and why. I discovered that I loved bookselling and working with authors.  I had gained awesome colleagues that I can't wait to see every day.

And slowly, I found my story again. I realized I had to drag myself up to write at 5 AM and discovered this wasn't that bad.

So yeah, it didn't look like perseverance at first.
But turns out it was.
Still in the game.
And happy to be here.
















7 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, Joy! I am going through the same thing... just took a job at a children's bookstore and figuring out how to balance writing with work again.

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    1. There's a lot of us, I think. Good luck! I'd love to hear how you like it!

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  2. Great post. I'm sharing it on Facebook.

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  3. I'm happy you're still in the game, too. ;)

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