Just recently, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I write, why I write, where I get inspiration from, and how it is I can keep going when the obvious rewards (publishing, money) are so minimal and rejection is so rife. All good questions and I’m not going to answer all of them here as I’d go on for pages and pages trying to cover it all.
However, I will answer the how I keep going part despite the negatives, because I think that’s an important subject for all writers – for anyone actually who is wanting to do anything and stick at it.
It all comes down to grit.
I always associate strongly with music, and there have been a few songs which have spoken to me a lot about the drive to keep going despite all the odds and the push backs and the rejections. I actually sang these last year at the Romance Writers of Australia, Ain’t Love Grand! conference last year. The weekend’s theme was a cabaret one, so it seemed to fit, especially with my background in performance, primarily in cabaret and theatre restaurants. I sang ‘Maybe this time’ from Cabaret, a song the editors at Harlequin Australia had asked me to sing at the cocktail party they sponsored after they found out about my performance background. I was very happy to sing this song, as I play it to myself (and sing it to myself) a lot when I’m struggling a bit to find the oomph to keep going. It speaks to me about never giving up, always looking to what you want, even when you keep getting knocked to the ground over and over. I finished with ‘They just keep moving the line,’ from the TV musical, Smash, another favourite song to listen and sing to. It once again is about putting your head down and just keep marching forward, keep reaching for the goal, even when that goal is moved over and over again. It was an amazing pleasure to share these with my writing friends and compatriots at the conference and I know that those songs spoke to them as well.
But to go with these songs, I had to write a speech to go with them, to explain why there are important to me, what they give me, and why I think the meaning behind them can speak to others as well who are in this crazy writing journey as well. I closed the conference with this speech, and it went over well, but I didn’t really think much about it afterwards. However, given the conversations I’ve had lately with a number of people about how I do this, how I keep on keeping on, it seemed to me that the best thing to do is to share the speech I gave to RWA members last August and hope it speaks to others now as it did then.
GRIT – A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND
With this being our 25th year, and with the Olympics having just been on, it has made me think about what it is that drives people and organisations like ours to success. What made Lynne Wilding and her fellow romance authors think they could succeed in this industry all those years ago when they were stuck here in Australia, so far from the home of romance publishing OS and what made them think that they could start RWA and wish to succour and help other authors like them? What kept them going through the hard times? And for that matter, what makes any of us want to excel at something, to turn it from a hobby to something more, to exceed expectations, to overcome difficulties, stress, personal and physical struggles, to enhance our own abilities to the point of success and then do it all again?
I don’t think so. I think it is something else that drives us – and them – to what others perceive of as madness.
Many people say, ‘Oh, I wish I could become a writer,’ or ‘I wish I had time to write,’ or ‘I know I could be a brilliant writer, if only…’ but it takes a certain kind of person to rise above those procrastinating sentences and to actually put the hard yards in to make the time, to learn to be brilliant, to take a wish and make it real. Lynne Wilding and her fellow authors who started RWA were that certain kind of people. And I think that none of you would be here today if you also weren’t that certain kind of person. But what is it in us that makes the difference between the ‘I wish’ and the ‘I do’? (and yes, that is the world’s worst pun for us and the HEAs we write!)
The one essence that rises above talent, or natural proclivity or drive, is GRIT. Yes, grit. Psychological research states that grit is as important in a person’s ability to succeed as talent or drive. What is grit, I hear you ask and why do I think you might like to hear about it? The reason I think you need to hear about it is that everyone here is dusted over with varying layers of grit – and you thought that was the tiredness of the long weekend you’ve just got through! No, you’re not tired and covered in dust – you’re just gritty.
Grit is the ability to keep driving through, no matter the obstacles, to pick yourself up and dust yourself down after knockbacks, to get on with the myriad, boring little activities and repetitive tasks that ensure expertise in something; the knuckling down when it seems hopeless and finding some way, any way, forward.
Have any of you seen or heard of Eddie The Eagle? He was a British man of no particular talent who decided that he wanted to go to the Olympics. However, he was only the 9th fastest skier in Britain at the time. And he’d tried many other sports before he’d hit on that one. When everything seemed to be ranged against him, he looked up, pressed on, and found a sport that nobody in Britain had pursued in a competitive way since 1929 – ski jumping. Despite having no sponsorship and many other obstacles in his way (including people telling him that he was demented), Eddie the Eagle found his way to the Winter Olympics in 1988 and won the heart of the spectators, media – and the world. He did it because he never gave up. He wasn’t good – just good enough to qualify. His jump was less than half that of the person who actually won. And he came roundly last. But that didn’t matter. He wanted to do it and he found a way. He didn’t give up. He had grit. And he succeeded in his dreams of participating in the Olympics.
I think RWA has had grit – despite hard times of almost bankruptcy – where a few, wonderful women knuckled down and wouldn’t give up because they didn’t want to lose what was so precious to them and others (see, grit). Despite the knocks our genre regularly gets from the media and literary types, our organisation has persevered, we’ve grown, we’ve got better, we hold onto what’s important and look to the sky, like Eddie the Eagle, wanting to fly. RWA has grit.
And as individuals, each and every person in this room has grit. You have to hold onto that grit no matter what, because this industry is ever changing. It can feel like you’re flying one moment only to hit the snow pack hard and feel bruised and broken because you’ve got a bad review, or not done well at a comp, or your critique partner doesn’t like what you’ve written, or your book didn’t sell and your publisher won’t publish the next book, or your self-published or traditionally published book is just floundering in a sea of other books. Feel sad – have that pity party for one, I’m not saying don’t. But then dig deep. Use that grit I know you have and raise your head back to the sky and forge on. Read, watch TV or the movies, go out with family or friends, play sport, go to the gym, sink into another hobby that brings you joy, do whatever you need to do to fill that well and make yourself feel better and then get stuck back in. Because nothing is truly worthwhile in this world when it’s too easy, when it’s handed to you on a silver platter. When you’re in the depths of despair, it can feel like that would be nice – I’d rather like someone to just float on by and tell me how brilliant I am out of the blue and give me everything I’ve ever dreamed of. But is that likely to happen? Nope. What is more likely is that the grit that’s inside me, the thing that makes me want this and hold onto that dream for grim death and never give in, will rise up with a little bit of coaxing from me and carry me forward.
So, going forward, I wish you all grit. I hope you have enough to cover yourself in it, to breathe in its gritty-grittiness, to feel the coarse-edginess of it on your skin, toughening you a little bit more, making you harder to knock down. And for this next year, while I am still president, I promise you that RWA will continue to have grit too, will continue to help you, work alongside you, be there for the good times and the bad, give you a helping hand to get back up, yell at you a bit when you stay in your pity party a bit too long (but nicely), and help give you the strength to make that grit truly mean something in the end.