Tunes for a Monday Morning
On giving ourselves permission...

Climbing the hill: reflections on persistence

Hillside 1

"Writing is difficult. You do it all alone without encouragement and without any certainty that you'll ever be published or paid or even that you'll be able to finish the particular work you've begun. It isn't easy to persist amid all that. Sometimes when I'm interviewed, the interviewer either compliments me on my 'talent,' my 'gift,' or asks me how I discovered it. I used to struggle to answer this politely, to explain that I didn't believe much in writing talent. People who want to write either do it or they don't. At last I began to say that my most important talent -- or habit -- was persistence. Without it, I would have given up writing long before I finished my first novel. It's amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up."  - Octavia E. Butler

Hillside 2

"Of course you must perservere. Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."  -  Henri Cartier-Bresson

Hillside 3

"The rewrites are a struggle right now. Sometimes I wish writing a book could just be easy for me at last. But when I think about it practically, I am glad it's a struggle. I am (as usual) attempting to write a book that's too hard for me. I'm telling a story I'm not smart enough to tell. The risk of failure is huge. But I prefer it this way. I'm forced to learn, forced to smarten myself up, forced to wrestle. And if it works, then I'll have written something that is better than I am."  - Shannon Hale

Hillside 4

"What is it about writing that makes it -- for some of us -- as necessary as breathing? It is in the thousands of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are at our most engaged, alert, and alive. Time slips away. The body becomes irrelevant. We are as close to consciousness itself as we will ever be. This begins in the darkness. Beneath the frozen ground, buried deep below anything we can see, something may be taking root. Stay there, if you can. Don’t resist. Don’t force it, but don’t run away. Endure. Be patient. The rewards cannot be measured. Not now. But whatever happens, any writer will tell you: This is the best part."   - Dani Shapiro (Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of the Creative Life)

Hillside 5

"We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are."  - Tobias Wolff


Writing the Novel

The work is newer than I am,
The telling longer than I am,
Revision harder than I am,
Resistance stronger than I am,
The people bolder than I am,
Changes stet-ter than I am
Backgrounds clear than I am
The story better than I am.

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I have often stated, and I mean it, that I am who I am, and have had success in my chosen field of the Mythic Arts, due in no small part to the following quote. It hung above my grandfather's desk, and it hangs above mine. I read it every day:

Press On:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~Calvin Coolidge

As someone who has devoted most of his life to the visual arts I know how much value there is in just the simple act of sitting at my drawing board and drawing. There is still so much to learn from what a line of graphite can do that the possibilities of that tentative pencil stroke still excite (and sometimes frustrates me as well). But much more frustrating is that as I've given over more and more time to writing as well, that there is no comparable means of getting feed back on the end results. With any visual art you can just show it to a friend, or post it online and in short order there it is. You're suddenly seeing it through their eyes and you know then if you've achieved something worth the making of it. The pages of a WIP manuscript on the other hand sit there, just daring anyone to take the time to read them and offer some feed back. And yes, I know I should be in a writing group but so far my efforts in that direction have not been successful. Still I'm compelled to write and just as with all those hours at the drawing board, the actual doing of it has brought learning with it. And, that act of creation, as always, makes the work not work at all.

Brilliant, Shane, thanks for posting this!! I have tried to state this to my art students in hopes of lighting a fire beneath the "talented" ones who do not work, and to encourage those for whom art is a challenge, but who work and work. It seems that the fire cannot be lit by another, however, but the encouragement feeds the fire of the ones who already have the spark. I will surely pass it on this quote.

I started my M.A. thesis a week ago. Thank you for this, in these dark days at university. I don't know yet where to start, which texts to read, which sentence to put down, but persisting seems to be a good idea. Sit there, read, drink tea, write, and wait.

I am in awe of all the wordsmiths out there!

I really can relate to these reflections on persistence. I think the idea of it extends to a belief that when the muse disappears she will return with newer/ fresher inspiration. Writer's block sets in and the dearth frustrates the poet to no end. It becomes easy to put down the pen and collapse into a temporary depression. Yet, we must persist in our belief that some idea or experience will burst naturally into mind because we are by nature writers, poets.

Last year, a good friend of mine, confided she hadn't composed anything in months. She said "her muse was obscure, off wintering in the desert and might not return.' I had been that in place before and understood her feelings of futility and uncertainty. It inspired me to contemplate the persona of that "obscure muse" and where she was hiding or still working.

The Obscure Muse

Do you know her ?

She winters in the corner
with lamplight, old books
and hours veiled
in the spider’s mantilla.

Do you hear her ?

She writes of rain pour
as it coldly descends
the garden steps.

Her sentences
that do not freeze
but issue lines,

a woman’s rib
broken in dashes
and aching
for completion --

a poem’s thought,
her lover’s promise.

Wach day in the world I am sure I have nothing of value to say, and yet I continue to speak in between bouts of silent fascination, and through moments of utter despair, and always when some new notion pricks my interest. Still, I know I am not so much a writer, as a talker.

if the W were an E then I might have said what I meant to say:->

Thank you Terri. I shall grasp at this when I next decide everything I ever do is worthless and I should immediately stop and go away. And if I re-frame 'persistence' as 'stubbornness', I discover I am, in fact, abundant :o).

Whosh--in awe. Thanks, Wendy.

So true. It is a mystery never solved.

I had to try many writing groups, sort of like the prince finding who fit into the glass shoe.
Finally, I found them, by accident, at our annual Laborfest; fine poets, story tellers, dramatists, all with a similar background. It seems like a trick of art, and synchronicity as
the quoted Julia Cameron hidden in the beautiful photographs of the moor.

Oh yes!

Or, it could be Watch Day, which we all should honor. So everyday, what waits to be seen, heard, loved.

This is such a comforting post. It may be a yacht, a canoe, a steamboat, a luxury ship, a dory. or a
submarine but we're all in the same boat.

Agreed. I feel suddenly not quite so alone. Thanks, Terri and all.

I liked that: "the pleasures and perils of creative life". In fact the only pleasures and perils than can be compared with those of creative life are the pleasures and perils of love. Only love experiences can be as demanding, as passionate and self-releasing as the process of creation. ANd life only mades sense if we are capable of persisting in both...
(I tried to put it in english this time, I hope it is understandable)

Oh, so true!

Beautiful! And powerful.


Persistence! Once again Tilly leads the way to the hilltop and the bench where we can overlook where we were and how we got here.

Hi Jane

So nice of you to read my entry here. Thank you for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed it!

My best

Hi Phyllis

Thank you for reading this! I am glad you liked it.

My best

Hi Terri

Thank you for those gracious and lovely words. These reflections on persistence" both intrigue and inspire. Thank you so much for sharing them. Your blog is always a place of such interest and splendor to visit!

my best

Hi Jane

I think you capture the nature of "writing the novel" with keen observation and truth. I agree with the whole premise of the poem and admire how you voice it. I can Especially relate to these lines -

Revision harder than I am,
Resistance stronger than I am,
The people bolder than I am,

That is indeed the truth at its best.
Thank you for sharing this.

My best

Big happy sigh. Tilly and hilltop and bench and all this wisdom.

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