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Wednesday, July 24, 2013


“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” 
Calvin Coolidge

This is one of my favorite quotes. I kept a copy of it tacked to my bulletin board in my cubby at work. I used it to remind myself that if I wanted to publish books I had to keep writing through rejections, setbacks, disappointments and the advice of naysayers who told me to give up. Another quote I read early in my writing career, “Writers who give up never publish,” became my mantra.
When I started writing seriously with the hope of publication (I’d written poetry and started a historical romance during my teen years), I had an uphill fight to battle my own self-doubts. I joined RWA, found a newly formed local chapter of RWA and proceeded to learn all I could about the creative and business sides of writing. 
There were ten of us in that new chapter, most newbies like me, a few more seasoned writers, none of us published. This was before ebooks and indie publishing. Only print publishers existed then and we were all desperate to sell to one of them. I think if you’d taken a poll of the members at that time and asked which of us was the least likely to publish, they’d pick me. Maybe that’s my insecurity talking, but I felt they were all so much more talented. Whenever we had a critique session, I’d come home feeling whipped, tail between my legs, convinced I’d never sell a book. Out of that group, I’m the only one still writing seriously, and only the third one to publish anything.
Two of those original ten members, who wrote as a team (I consider them one writer) became my mentors and I’ll be forever grateful to them. They were excellent writers and we all knew they’d publish. And they did. They went on to publish six books with Kensington. Then they quit and dropped off the Earth, or so it seems. I’ve lost contact with them and I don’t know why they quit writing. It makes me sad because they were my friends and were very talented writers. Another member sold one book to an epub, a very good book, then quit. She now spends her days babysitting her grandkids. That’s her choice. I suspect she wanted to publish a book to say she could, and that was it.     
That chapter broke up a long time ago and I’ve lost touch with most of the members. I do know they’ve all stopped writing, except for one member, a good friend and critique partner, who has  been writing the same book for fifteen years. She is very talented, and even sold a short story to a national magazine when she was in high school. She decided a long time ago that her husband’s needs would always come before her own. He doesn’t like her to write so she only writes when it doesn’t interfere with something he wants to do. That wouldn’t be my choice but she seems happy with it. It saddens me to see talent wasted.
Many people decide they want to write a book, then for whatever reasons, they stop. Life interferes and priorities change. I get that. I’m not faulting anyone for giving up their writing and going onto other things. I admit that, despite my determination, there were times when I considered quitting. Times when I’ve felt beaten down by rejections. Writing is not for the faint-hearted. A writer has to have the soul of a poet and the hide of a rhinoceros. Sometimes my hide wasn’t thick enough. But I pulled myself up out of the murky waters of gloom and kept writing. 
Was I more talented than the others in that original chapter? Absolutely not. Luckier? I doubt it. Did I persevere? Hell, yes. Despite rejections, mean-spirited letters from agents and editors, mean contest comments, I kept going. I went to workshops, conferences, learned all I could. After ten long, hard years, I made my first sale, to Avalon Books.
When I joined RWA, a controversy was brewing over whether the organization should allow unpublished authors to be full members. Some published authors believed all of us unpublished ones should be kicked out of RWA. I’ll always remember a letter to the editor published in RWR Magazine, written by a published author. She said the vast majority of us unpublished writers would never publish (she was right, but her tone was very mean-spirited). She went on to say that if we weren’t getting positive rejection letters and winning contests, we had no business writing and to just go away and quit tainting the organization. I wasn’t winning contests or getting positive rejection letters. Quite the contrary. Did her remarks make me quit? No. They made me angry and more determined than ever to prove her wrong.
            Writing is so much a part of me I can’t quit even if I never sell another thing. The moral of this little essay: if you have a fire in your belly for something, don’t let your own self-doubt or the misgivings of others keep you from your dream.
I hope all of you, writers and non-writers, take inspiration from this. Never give up and don’t listen to the naysayers.

The picture above, taken June 2013, is of me and my cousin Luigi who was visiting from Italy. My husband and I acted as his tour guides to Philadelphia and Luigi wanted to see the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Who better embodies persistence than Rocky?


Tina Donahue said...

Great post. And so true on what most of us go through to get published.

It could be that your friends didn't quit writing, but that they didn't sell enough books for the publisher to keep publishing them. It happens all the time. If you don't have great sell through, you simply can't get another contract with that publisher or any other. Unless, of course, your write under a different name.

This happens all the time. And yes, it has happened to some bestselling authors.

Cara Marsi said...

Tina, thanks for posting. You may be right regarding my friends who published with Kensington. I've lost contact with them so don't know for sure why they quit writing. They're so talented that it's a shame to quit.

Melissa Keir said...

"A writer has to have the soul of a poet and the hide of a rhinoceros."
Those words were never truer. I've found that for life itself we need a tough hide. I see too many times when things are easy and not appreciated, then the people give up when things are tough. But when things are tough and you have to work at it, you are more likely to enjoy it, even with challenges. I'm glad you didn't give up. :)

Gemma Juliana said...

Your blog post reminds me of my own journey. I joined RWA in 1982 while expecting my first child. Two decades later I joined again. A decade later, I decided to indie publish and couldn't be happier. I like to think I never gave up - just took some long breaks in my writing career. :-)

vicki batman said...

OmG, girlfriend, I could have written this.

Tina is right. Some publishers are notorious about 3books, then done. And if before epubbing, they may have felt hopeless.

I put Handsome's needs before mine when he had cancer. Sometimes, he is irritated when I say, nope, am writing, or attending a meeting, but he does the same thing too and I give him hell.

And I won very little in contests and even had a judge say "Why are you writing?" I felt a meanspirited remark and was down for two days. Then determined who is this person to decide my destiny? Only I can.

It's rewarding in that I am pushing myself in extremes and love that part. More moola would be nice too.

Janice Seagraves said...

Great post about persistence.

You can't let anything stop you. You got to keep going. I used to think I'd need more education to be a writer (I'm a HS graduate with some college), but I reminded myself that Jack London hadn't graduated from HS and he wrote over fifty books. Most best sellers.

Someone told me that I'd never be published. I told him "Watch me!"

I'm now a published writer.


Sue Palmer Fineman said...

Well said, Cara. And I love the quote at the beginning. But don't put yourself down. You're a very talented, published author.

Paris said...

Wonderful post, Cara. There's nothing like perseverance! Maybe stubbornly believing in their work is an author's most valuable resource:)

Berengaria Brown said...

Awesome post, Cara. Writing is damn hard work, but seeing your book out there, having someone else read it, and tell you they liked it, is the best feeling ever.

Cara Marsi said...

Thank you all for commenting. Your comments make me feel so good. We're all in this together.

Melissa, I love the quote about the soul of a poet and the hide of a rhino. I read that somewhere and it stuck with me.

Gemma, you may have taken breaks but you never gave up.

Vicki, things just keep getting better for you and I'm so happy. Of course you had to take care of Handsome when he was sick. But now you can pursue your dream.

Janice, I have a HS education with a little college. I know what you mean, but you don't need a degree to be a good writer.

Thank you, Sue. Your support means a lot to me.

Thank you, Berengeria. So glad you commented. And yes, seeing your book out there for others to read is the best reward.

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