Sunday, June 28, 2009

Thoughts on How to Keep on Keeping On

"It doesn’t matter how many times you go down. It doesn’t matter how many times you’re in the dirt. If you can pull yourself up one more time than you go down – that’s what it’s all about." -- Dick Beardsley

This past Friday and Saturday I attended a writer's conference in Grand Rapids with a friend of mine who I have mentored through writing her first book manuscript in the past year. It's been a while since I've been to a writer's conference... And it's been even longer since I've sat in the audience instead of standing up front presenting. I really enjoyed it.

I stayed up late on Friday talking with the lovely Janet, a transplant from Nashville to Michigan this January ("Welcome to 20 below!"). Her narrative non-fiction book follows the pregnancy of a 16-year old girl and presents her experience in a series of personal vignettes and diary entries. Janet has been married for 25 years. The book is a version of her story. It is timely, engaging, and -- from what I saw -- well crafted. It is also blunt, honest, and full of hope.

I ate breakfast with a woman whose lyrical, soul-baring book details how she coped with raising her three children when her husband and her best friend, the pastor of a small church, drove away one morning... and committed suicide before the day ended.

I enjoyed a lively discussion about screenwriting and the difficulties of cracking the film industry with Gerald who writes futuristic adventures that ring creepily true when he pitches them -- making you wish you could pick one up from the airport bookstore, because it would certainly make the time in the terminal pass in a flash.

I traded good-natured ribbing with the talented and intellectually interesting Seth (18 going on 30), who tried to appear cool and jaded by the whole bit, but who was just too interested in life to completely pull it off. Seth, who recently lost a finished fantasy manuscript when his computer crashed, now realizes the great value of something called a "backup." But he also realizes that his re-write is better. So who's to say that the crash was a disaster?

I ate lunch with Mary. Her nearly completed a narrative non-fiction book tells of her life-altering involvement in a support group for a young co-worker who discovered that she was in an advanced stage of breast cancer when she was 10 weeks pregnant.

These and others at the conference have been told by people in the industry myriad ways that their projects don't readily conform to what is "salable" or "marketable."

"It's just not right for us."

"Those types of books are dead right now."

"I don't represent that sort of thing... But good luck..."

A person's project can be discounted with breathtaking speed.

And yet, we writers keep on. We persevere. We know there is a market for what we write -- if, for the only reason that we would read it, if we had the opportunity.

My new friend, Dick Beardsley knows something about perseverance. He has tried -- and failed -- at things more times than most people. Interestingly enough, though his successes are what made him a running legend, his failures in life are what continue to make what he has to say relevant.

"There is no formula for success. But there is a formula for failure and that is to try to please everybody." -- Nicholas Ray (Director, "Rebel Without A Cause," among many, many others...)

"Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." -- Edmund Burke.

So -- to struggling writers, screenwriters, poets -- and marathoners -- everywhere: Keep on keeping on. Here's a massive helping of perseverance, determination, and fortitude to see the thing through. No matter what anyone says.