Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to read a letter by the widow of Martin Luther King. It argued against Session’s nomination for the role of Attorney General because he had used his position to prevent black voter registration in Alabama. Senator Elizabeth Warren was warned to stop reading. She didn’t stop. Senator McConnell made the famous/infamous statement:
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Her persistence led to the creation of the hashtags #shepersisted and #NeverthelessShePersisted. I like persisters. I think it is especially appropriate for political struggle, and also for women writers. Which can be the same thing, of course.
Sticking at it in the face of opposition, that’s what persistence means to me. For women the opposition can be in the form of a person in authority blocking their way, as for Senator Elizabeth Warren, or Vera Brittain’s determination to study at Oxford in 1914 despite her father’s refusal. Or it can be persistence in the face of cultural opposition such as the Suffragettes’ activism, or women seeking to join the professions. My examples refer to opposition based on gender, but many have experienced opposition on other grounds and also needed persistence to overcome obstacles.
Persistence for Writers
Writers need persistence in bucketfuls. Writing takes a long time, to learn the craft and to produce writing of quality, especially large projects such as novels, other books, play scripts and screenplays. And there are other challenges:
- It’s lonely work
- Life gets in the way
- Many writers face self-doubt
- Imposter Syndrome
- A writer’s inner critic
- External critics
- Rejection (see below)
Women writers can expect some addition obstacles:
- Less exposure
- The pram in the hall
- Shorter history to draw on (see A Room of One’s Own)
- Cultural expectations of women’s writing
All writers need to be able to face rejection. It’s always reassuring to hear how many rejections were received by writers later credited with great work.
William Golding received 20 rejections for Lord of the Flies.
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was turned down by 22 publishers
Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.
Anne Frank’s Diary was rejected by 15 publishers.
To be rejected that many times I note takes persistence.
Not even getting to rejection
Many women’s lives are so busy and occupied with care of others that they may not get to prepare writing for publication until quite late in life. Mary Wesley published her first adult novel at 61. Laura Ingelis Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, published her first novel at 64. These two writers both turned to writing in times of financial need. Anita Brookner published her first book at 53. Anne Goodwin, author of Sugar and Snails and Underneath refers to herself as an ‘elderly prima-authorista’.
Persistence is a quality needed by writers. But how can they acquire and develop it? Julia Cameron, who pioneered the idea of Morning Pages, wrote recently (August 2017) about their value to her.
For more than 25 years, I have faithfully written Morning Pages – three pages of longhand stream of consciousness that serves to unlock my creativity, guiding me a page at a time into my future. The pages, I often say, are like lanterns—illuminating the path ahead. I write them daily, aware that skipping them leads back to blocks. The faithful practice of pages leads to freedom. They bring ease and inspiration to my life. (MindBodyGreen)
And the first thing she learned is that persistence paid off. Regular writing, not for publication, is practised by many writers. It gets creative juices going.
Dealing with the obstacles that require persistence is the focus of several chapters in Jurgen Woolf’s Your Writing Coach. One section is called Persist! and in it he offers practical approaches to some difficulties: space, isolation, critics, finding time. And some ways to speak to yourself about keeping going. I especially like the advice, to be good to yourself.
So, fellow women writers, Persist! For my sanity I need per-sisters!
Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Woolf, published in 2012 by Nicholas Brealey.
To subscribe and receive email notifications of future posts on Bookword please enter your email address in the box.