On Persistence

Aaron Polson submitted to Shimmer roughly eleventy-billion times before recently making his first sale to us. Here, he speaks to persistence, and why it’s vital.

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My four-year-old son, Max, plays with the Soccer Hobbits on Saturday mornings, and no one keeps an “official” score. Soccer Hobbits focuses on playing, learning to love the game, experience, and fun. When Max pursues the ball during scrimmage, however, the look of grim determination on his face speaks all business. Max might not be as big or as fast as some of his peers, but he makes up for his lack of prowess with sheer guts and persistence. One tiny tap of the ball, even if it is stolen a microsecond later, proves enough to keep the fight in his tiny legs.

I can’t help but draw a parallel to what it takes to stay in the game as a writer.

Anyone can write. I have to believe as much to survive my day job as a high school English teacher. Some days are harder than others, for my students as well as me. Writing well and developing one’s craft requires patience. Patience requires a healthy dose of perspective. Since I started my writing journey four years ago, I’ve gained as much perspective as any bit of craft. Rejection is part of the game, and I’ve received my share. Each “no” used to sting like a solid punch in the gut, knocking the writing wind out of me.

But persistence requires a certain level of stubbornness despite little defeats. I listened to editors. I dusted off my knees and worked harder. I read. I’ve read the best in the field, devouring year’s best volumes, retrospective collections, award winners—trying to unlock the magic. Along the way, I identified what I liked, what worked and what didn’t, in the stories I read. I made a mental list. I wrote, too. Every day. Even days when I was too sick or tired or defeated to keep going, I forced at least one hundred words on a page, just as Max forces his little legs to keep pumping on the soccer field.

I first submitted to Shimmer in 2007. By my count, I’ve beleaguered the editorial staff with 27 manuscripts over the past few years. Persistence requires a writer to believe the next time will be it, the golden message, an acceptance letter with contract attached. It’s a sort of insanity, really, trying to find a home for one’s stories in highly competitive markets. For a writer to stay with the game, a writer must believe each story is better than the last, each story is a move forward.

And finally, most of all, a writer must be patient—as patient with her/himself as with a market’s submission wait-time. Craft does improve, only with time and effort; no “magic writing beans” exist, no overnight elixirs of brilliance. Stories need patience, too. Patience to develop. Patience for the characters and setting and plot cogs to snap together in the right way. Sometimes patience requires a story be set aside for months, as I did with “The House was Never a Castle.” I’m not the same writer I was when I first submitted to Shimmer back in 2007. I won’t be the same writer a year from now.

Max can keep playing soccer as long as he loves it; I’ll hammer away, story after story, page after page, word after word, putting my patience and persistence to the test.

5 thoughts on “On Persistence”

  1. Rock on, Aaron! (Both as a writer AND as an English teacher. Your students are lucky to have you!)

  2. Gotta agree with HM Tanzen up there, your students are lucky–and your kids too! Well said, and a necessary reminder for all of us.

  3. Your blog post came at just the right time for me. And when I saw the advert describing it, I had to laugh. I woke up this morning to a very nice, relatively long, quite personal rejection from Willow Springs. Yesterday I received almost as nice a one from The Southern Review. But even nice rejections are still rejections and after the eightieth or ninetieth in a year they start getting a little depressing. Thanks for showing me real persistence.

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