Going Through Hell

Many moons ago, I had a column in a RWA chapter newsletter called Phoenix Rising. Here’s a column that I’ve found inspirational on many levels.

January/February 1998

“If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill

Did any of you see the last George Foreman fight? That he won is the product of only one fact: He never gave up. Forget the fact his opponent was half his age. Forget that he took two or three punches for every one he gave. Each time he took a hit he didn’t fall back–he took two steps forward. He chased his dream all around the ring, two steps at a time. Some people say that he won with a lucky punch. But if he hadn’t taken each of those steps after each hit, if he had given up at any time, he would not have been there to take advantage and deliver that winning punch.

Drawing the analogy now isn’t hard. Writing isn’t easy. The fledgling writer has to deal with learning the actual craft, the trials of comma placement and danger of dangling participles. The mysteries of character and dialogue have to be solved. The labyrinth of plot and pacing needs to be navigated. With every attempt, you take a hit, be it from a critique partner, a contest, a rejection letter or your own opinion. Do you fall or keep writing?

Then comes the realization that the learning never stops. That’s a hard blow and it staggers many writers. The rules don’t change, but there’s just so many of them and how do they mesh with style and creativity? Once the basics are learned, years can be spent developing finesse. The work just continues.

If you’re like me, you have years dedicated to writing. Manuscripts fill notebooks and disks. Ideas pop into your head more often than your name gets called. Rejection letters fill a folder, drawer, trash bin or wallpaper the bathroom. They’re also handy if you have a young puppy and no newspaper. You might enter contests and despair because you never win. Even worse, you place well the first time and never do well again. You network and submit but nothing moves your career forward.

Stomach punch. Connect to the jaw.

Is the fight too much? Is it too hard to keep taking those steps; looking, hoping for the lucky opening,; knowing you’re likely to just get hit again? Not every fighter can do what George Foreman did. Not every writer can weather the rejections, the critiques and the waiting for responses. It takes a strong ego to labor month after month, year after year of nothing to show for the work except dreams. There’s the bemused looks of unsympathetic family and friends when you talk about writing. The outside perception that writers don’t do anything and can be interrupted for inane things. Or the cross-eyed looks when you say, “I’m a Romance writer.”

Kidney punch. Bloody nose.

In 1998, I will celebrate my twenty-third anniversary of declaring I wanted to be a published author. I’ve fought the fight, taken the hits and kept moving forward like so many of you. I see people who have dedicated less of their lives gain my goals and smiled and wished them well. I’ve seen people give up the fight, unable to take another step and I’ve mourned their going from the writing community. I’ve kept going and, with every hit and every step, I’ve realized the blow that can truly KO the drive.

Despite the years of dedication, all the effort and all the knowledge gained, the goal of publication is not guaranteed to me. Staying in the fight does not mean I’ll win some day.

But quitting means that I won’t be there if the lucky opening comes my way some day.

Do you step forward after a hit? Or do you throw in the towel? The decision is yours.

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