Don't Stop Believin'
With this round, we at SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE are sharing the best advice we’ve heard and followed through our writing careers. What keeps us going, despite the odds?
We’ve all heard the backstory of J.K. Rowling, how she was a single parent, jobless, and “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” The rest, of course, is literary history. In 2008, Rowling delivered one of my favorite all time inspirations, which I still carry around. You can read the entire speech here.
“Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life…
“Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.
“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned…
“Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared…”
Another favorite piece of advice comes from Robin LaFevers (April 2014):
“Yes, I’m talking to you. The one over there, not meeting my eyes for fear I’ll see the self doubt and despair that have begun to edge out your sense of purpose and confidence.
"And you, there in the corner, looking everywhere but at me, afraid to believe that your time is almost here. It is. You’ve been working hard, for long years, carving out time, pouring your heart and soul into your work, perfecting your craft, and, maybe most important of all, not giving up. So yes, your turn is coming. It’s just around the corner there where you can’t see it, but it’s heading your way. It might be here in two months or maybe two years, but it will be here. Unless you give up. Then it will never arrive, so whatever you do now, don’t give up."
In other words: Don’t. Give. Up. It is as simple and as hard, failure-fraught, messy, and frustrating as that.
And this means, don’t stop learning. About yourself, about your story. About your craft. I'm looking forward to taking this Line Editing webinar class, offered by master teachers Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson! I took their revision class last year; this is the logical next step for me. And for everyone who wants to engage deeper into language, how structure impacts story. There is an underlying rhythm to all texts. As Noah Lukeman once said, sentences crash and fall like ocean waves, working their magic on the reader.
So, my best advice. Don't stop believin' in your story.
-- Bobbi Miller