The Tulip of Persistence


Behold the rabbit-chewed, decapitated tulip of my persistence.

I’m sure there are writers who write their first book, get an agent, and publish in short order. Their first novel is a market-friendly blockbuster and they make all the money. They’re probably lovely people with glowing reviews. This post is not for them. This post is for the writers who struggle, who get rejected and keep writing. While I’m sure that dreamy, gifted, lucky writer exists, for most of us, it’s a hell of a lot of work, and a longer road, than we’d like.

Gardening is also work, but it’s not my passion. I have some passion for it. I inherited it from my grandmother, whose legendary green thumb would have made her tsk at the current state of my yard. My grandmother grew every color of flower you can imagine, and I suspect it was quite hard, the work she set herself to. You never really saw that. You saw the colorful blooms she brought to her dining room table, the wood polished to a waxy thickness that a cup of hot coffee would sink into. My grandmother was something of a domestic perfectionist. She weeded clutter with the same focus she used on her plots. She wrote poetry in her youth, but writing was not her passion.

When I first bought my little house, I planted everything. I wanted to remember my grandmother. I bought bulbs and trees. I weeded. I hoped for fruit, for berries, for fresh vegetables. I wanted to recapture some aspect of an idyllic rural childhood that let’s face it, wasn’t so great when I look back. I realized that horses are assholes (another post), and that gardening isn’t just a lot of work, it’s also a major time sink, and so it had to go.
The Tulip of Persistence is a relic of that time. Tulips are pretty easy. Even I, with too little free time and less inclination, shouldn’t be able to screw up tulips. Step one: plant the bulb (right end down, not the pointy end). Step two: apply water with some degree of regular frequency. Step three: wait for it to naturalize. Step four: rabbits eat the damn thing.

Every freaking year. I don’t even remember what color that tulip is supposed to be. I planted it four years ago. Each spring it makes a valiant, tulipy effort. It sprouts, tries to bloom, gets really close, and then, just when the head is forming, and the bloom is near open, the rabbits decapitate it. I don’t even think they find tulips appetizing. They’re just toying with my little writer mind.

I’ve tried several solutions to this issue. I’ve applied pepper and cayenne, cat pee, human pee – all things that should tell the rabbits this tulip is not their friend. Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s the squirrels. Squirrels do not give a shit.

Yet, about six feet away, tulips are blooming. See here’s the thing, I want the Tulip of Persistence to make it. It’s sort of my first love, the first bulb I planted in my little urban wasteland. And maybe some year it will happen. It keeps trying. It sends up leaves. It forms its bloom. It gets its head taken off. But maybe it’s taking one for the team, because while it lives and dies its rabbity death, around it, my other bulbs are blooming.
Which brings this ham-handed analogy back to writing.

Step one: Plant more than one bulb. Have more than one book. Don’t write one book, try to publish it, and put your efforts aside. The lovely, prolific, and amazing author Cecy Robson told me to always be thinking two books ahead, and that advice has made a huge difference in my perspective. As soon as your book leaves your hands, get to work on the next one. Be so consumed with focus and love for the next work that the rejections don’t hurt so hard.

Step two: Nourish your work. Strive to improve your craft. The best way to improve your writing is through practice, and make that practice focused. Add a little bio-diversity. Try other genres, try other points of view. Keep striving to improve your prose, your plotting, your writing – all of it. Use new techniques, new tropes. Stretch yourself.

Step three: Naturalize through practice. The more you write, the better you’ll write, but also, the faster you’ll write. I used to think 2,000 words a day would never be my thing. I am easily at that pace now and still picking up speed. I’m getting faster, and better, at it.

Step four: Keep writing. You can’t control the rabbits or squirrels. Rejection is often going to be beyond your control. I know I talk about this a lot, and that’s because there’s just no other way. Writing one book, submitting, then laying down to die if it doesn’t publish isn’t going to get you there. Even if that first book is perfect and beautiful and awesome, which it probably isn’t, it may not make it. This industry takes a lot of right timing and luck. Every book you get to market, get on submission, is one more ticket to the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t keep playing.

Keep writing. Persist. Thrive.

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