My thirteen year old son was learning how to make pies. I must confess, I'm completely inept at pie-making—especially when it comes to the crust. By the time I finish rolling out the dough, I usually end up with something that looks like a misshaped piece of Swiss cheese.
So, as my son experimented with a chocolate fudge pie, I certainly wasn’t the one to give him expert advice. I pulled out the recipe, made sure he knew where the ingredients were, and left for my day of writing at the library (leaving his pie-making endeavors under the supervision of my equally pie-challenged husband).
When I got home later, two finished pies sat on the counter. It didn’t matter that chocolate was smudged on cabinet doors or that flour caked the floor. I was proud of my son for tackling such a big challenge and completing the task.
I bit into a piece of pie after dinner and savored the smooth fudgy taste. But as I chewed, another stronger flavor soon overpowered everything else. Salt.
“How much salt did you use,” I asked casually, trying not to grimace.
“One teaspoon, just like the recipe called for,” he said, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth in typical 13-year-old-boy fashion, blissfully unconcerned that his pie was more salty than sweet.
“Do you think you accidentally used a tablespoon?”
He stopped, his fork poised mid-air. Then he grinned. “Ooops.”
Getting the right ingredients is important—especially if we're aiming for success. And in our writing, having the right ingredients is critical too—not only in our stories, but also in our attitudes. When I look at the characteristics that have helped me most in my quest for publication, here are the top three:
A teachable spirit. The willingness to learn. The humbleness to admit we have room to improve. If we hold on to our stories and words too tightly, if we aren’t willing to see where we’ve gone wrong, if we think that our creativity reigns superior, then it’s possible we’ll miss out on success. There are very few of us who are truly born with writerly genius. The vast majority of us have to learn to write the hard way. Those of us who are open to correction and who are willing to learn from our mistakes are the ones who will come out further ahead.
We need to have a long term vision and consciously decide we’re in this for the long haul. It’s not a sprint. It’s a grueling marathon. Writer’s who don’t have incredible perseverance, patience, and self-discipline won’t last the distance. But those who put their heads down, grit their teeth, and keep going, they’ll be stronger for it. Yes, writing can be fun and bring us joy, but during the time when it’s not, we keep going anyway.
We’re going to face obstacles that sock us in the gut, knock us to the ground, and squeeze the air from our lungs. It could be the daily frustration of trying to find writing time amidst the busy chaos of real life. Or it could be the brutal critique we receive on a beloved manuscript. We can’t let the discouragements and difficulties flatten us forever. Those who hope to succeed have to peel themselves off the ground, brush off the dirt, and keep writing.
If we want a slice of the publication pie, we have to stir in the right ingredients. We need to have a balanced combination of all the above characteristics. If we’re missing one, but too heavy on another, we may lose out on the chance to taste the sweetness of publication.
Are you cultivating the kinds of attitudes that will lead to publication? Do you have enough humility, endurance, and resilience? What other characteristics have helped you to succeed?
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