Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

...unless your book is terrible and you're a hack. (I kid.)

Seriously, though, I couldn't help but notice in the epic comments section of yesterday's post that a number of you are either relatively young, relatively new to this whole novel-writing business (i.e. are still hard at work on your first manuscript), or both. Well, good news: this is the part where I bust out my grandpa glasses and learn you a thing or two about writing stories.

Anecdote #1: When I was in sunny COLLEGE, USA this weekend, I ran into several visiting alumni. Many of them were in their thirties or forties and were generally more than happy to talk about what they did for a living, what school/work/life was like back in their day, and so forth. Of these gentle folk, one (in his late 30s) told me he's still not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, having had jobs in at least four different (and very diverse) fields since graduation. I told him I worked in publishing, and replied that maybe he'd give novel writing a go. And you know what? I hope he does. He could be at the very beginning of a great writing career.

So, if you're 25 and you've shopped a novel or two and it hasn't worked out yet, it may not necessarily be time to throw in the towel. Not everyone is Jonathan Safran Foer; chances are, you've got plenty of time.

Anecdote #2: This one is apocryphal, but the story goes something like this: a doctor and a novelist meet at one of those parties where you stand around with cocktails and talk about what you do for a living (perhaps a college reunion). When the doctor hears that the novelist writes for a living, he says, "I'd love to be a novelist, if only I had the time." The novelist then takes a characteristically long sip of his drink before responding, "Yes, and I'd love to be a doctor, if only I had the time."

Long story short (Eric said, removing his grandpa glasses): writing is hard. It takes time, talent, time, knowledge, luck, time, and luck (as well as a thousand other factors, like time and luck). It's not all going to magically come together overnight, but if you work hard at it and you've got the skill, chances are you'll see results. Maybe not when you're 20, 30, 40, or even 50, but you won't see anything if you give up now. I mean, come on—if I'd given up on this post at 10:00, you'd have nothing to read. But—o frabjous day!—I kept at it until 10:10, and now look! Results. You can't fake this kind of success, kids.



  1. That second anecdote is one related by John D. Macdonald in his introduction to Stephen King's "Night Shift." You can see it for yourself right here:


  2. By way of validation, I am 54 years old. During the 30-plus years between my 20s and 50s, I wrote three novels. Couldn't sell one. When I was 51, I decided I had to try yet again, and wrote my fourth novel. Finally... jackpot. It will be published in August 2010 by Viking Penguin.

    Do not give up.

  3. Here are several equations to calculate the luck factor in getting published. They use the following variables:

    N= Good Luck
    X= Bad Luck
    D= Dumb Luck
    Q= Query
    A= Agent Preferences
    P= Publishing Industry Demands
    C= Contract

    So therefore, if Q=(A*P) then N should result, yielding C.

    However, if Q+P is not equal to A, then X. Also, if Q+A=C but is not equal to P, then X.

    Of course there may be variations on this logic, such as if Q<(A*P) but the result is C, then D, pure and simple.

    So you see, it's all very straightforward. N to all of you!

  4. Jim - congrats!

    Rick - my brain hurts.

    Eric - as I'm one of those newer writers, I appreciate the words of encouragement.

  5. I'm not even 25 yet, so there's definitely no way getting a few (dozen) rejections would ever make me give up. I've got way too many ideas floating around in this geeky little head of mine for me to even consider it.

    Instead, I'll just keep all those rejections in a special folder on my desktop and keep plugging away. Then maybe a few years from now, when I eventually make it big (har har), I can whip them out and read each one with glee while gently (and maybe lovingly?) stroking the hardcovers of my best-sellers. There also might be laughing involved.

    ....well I can dream can't I?

  6. My first book was published when I was 52 (last year) by Bloomsbury -- I was too busy living it up in my 20s and 30s and taking a much-need rest in my 40s to write a book. Youth should be wasted in more interesting ways than by sitting in a room scribbling.

  7. From this point forward you will forever be referred to as Grandpa Eric. :)

    This was a good post. Gave me the warm fuzzies.

  8. Thanks for the encouragement. I'll hang in there. The cool thing is...I'm getting closer

  9. And here I was hoping for some Princess Bride style anecdotes after that picture. It's good to hear again that this is hard and others see that it's hard.

  10. The grandpa glasses made me smile and look wistfully off into the distance like J.D. from Scrubs as I basked in childhood memory.

    But seriously, we can't ever give up :). If we do, we're not writers; we're hobbyists. Good luck, everyone!

  11. I am 54 and it took me ten year to write the novel that will be published in 2011. Do give up just keep writing and going to critique groups and conference.

  12. I loved Galaxy Quest... and Princess Bride.

    It's nice to see an encouraging post.

  13. Congratulations, Jim and belatedly to Vivian. Best of luck!

    Thanks for "N", Rick. I'm guessing it's a good thing but math was never my best subject.

    Eric, you made up for that terrible post telling us the truth about our chances of getting published. Thank you! Hope you enjoyed your broings-on too.

  14. Word. I read somewhere (maybe on Scalzi's blog?) that the average age of the debut novelist is 37. These things take time, kids. Maybe you hit it big at 23, maybe it's 75, maybe it's somewhere in between.

    The only guarantee in this biz is that you WON'T get published if you DON'T try.

  15. LaFreya, Didn't mean to leave you out. Congratulations and muchos luck with it!

  16. Thanks for the encouragement, it's always nice to know those on the inside recognize the hill we have to climb!

  17. Frabjous post! I, of the Lewis Carrol Fan Club, would like to thank you for the sudden firing of memories that sparked!
    Making time to write is like taking time. I took years to learn selfishness. Now I write.

  18. Awesome post and responses! Congrats to all of you with your success stories. Hope more of us join you at some point in the future :)

  19. Pimp my novel...I (heart)you. I'm 37, been in 2 serious careers (librarian & mom) and still not sure what I want to do when I grow up. Maybe write. Maybe open a chocolate factory. Thanks for helping me decide.

  20. YOu had me at "Never give up! Never Surrender!"

    I agree whole heartedly with what you said. I just hope my break comes closer to when I'm 35 than when I'm 55.

  21. Great post, that. I know I have a novel in me but reckon I'm too young at 28 - a few more years' of life will do wonders for my writing. Just writing short stories at the moment. Check them out if you get a minute...http://plentymorefishoutofwater.blogspot.com/.
    Anyway, really like your blog - some great advice. Consider yourself followed.

  22. Just a note on the age thing: I'm in my early sixties. I've had two other agents but never sold anything. I'm on my third agent and I feel my writing is better than ever. I've written seven books and I can see my maturity developing with each book. So age has never been a factor in my writing or with my agents...

  23. At 26, I hear about people younger than me becoming famous novelists or a big mucky-muck editor at the WSJ or something and I think, "holy crap! I'm falling behind!" Which is ridiculous and a bit precocious. Still, it feels like a punch to the gut sometimes. Thanks for the encouragement!

  24. Hahaha. If only I had the time.

    Thanks for the encouragemet.

  25. Nicely put. I've been an epilogue from finished my first draft since the year started... I think the only thing that keeps me from finishing is fear of failure, or maybe fear of success...

  26. This post makes me kind of love you - in a platonic "thank you for saying it out loud" way, of course! What I needed to hear today.