I’ll never forget the day, just after church, when a friend pulled me aside and said, “My son can’t find a job and he needs to make some money fast. So he’s going to write a book. Any advice for him?”
Yeah, well, the advice I had wasn’t for him, it was for her: “Don’t ever say anything like that to me again.”
Whatever gave people the impression that writing was a get-rich quick scheme? Or that there was anything quick about it? Those of us who’ve been working at this for more than a few days know that very little happens quickly in publishing. So let me point out two things you have to have if you hope to succeed at this writing game: patience and perseverance.
But then, those two gems are necessary for success in most fields. So for those who are growing weary, who feel it’s taking too long, who wonder why they ever jumped into this pool to begin with, let me encourage you with a few stories of success that finally came—but only after substantial patience and perseverance:
- Emily Dickinson: One of the best-loved writers of all times, Dickinson crafted 1800 pieces of literary beauty. And, while she lived, guess how many were published? Less than 1 percent. And many of those dozen or so pieces were altered big-time to fit contemporary poetic rules. (Rotten editors!) Her first book of poems was published in 1890, 4 years after her death, by a group of friends. The first complete collection of her poems wasn’t published until 1955. Today? She’s read worldwide and considered by many to be one of the most important American poets ever.
- Vincent Van Gogh: One of his paintings recently sold for $149.5 million. And yet, while he lived, he sold…wait for it…one painting. One. To a friend. For the equivalent of pennies. So what did he do in the face of no sales? He kept painting. In fact, he created over 800 works. That, my friends, is perseverance.
- Dr. Seuss: Oh yes, Theodor Seuss Giesel was not an overnight success. In fact, his first book was rejected by 27 publishers. But thank heaven he kept trying, and ultimately we all benefited from The Cat in the Hat and the discovery that we do, indeed, like Green Eggs and Ham!
- Harland David Sanders: I’m especially fond of this one because Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame actually helped send me to college. No lie. He grew up in the same denomination I did, and gave scholarships to children of pastors and missionaries in that denomination. So not only did I receive one of those scholarships, the Colonel, decked out in his white suit and hat, came to my college once a year to say hello. And guess what the food service folks served him every single time. Yup, fried chicken.
While KFC is, today, a clear success, Sanders had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it. Now that’s finger-lickin’ perseverance!
- Jack London: Speaking of rejection slips, this author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild received six hundred rejections for his works. Six. Hundred. Nuff said.
- Oprah Winfrey: Arguably one of the most recognizable people in the world, right? Revolutionized talk TV. Launched numerous writers’ careers with her book club. And, like many who are now successful, took hit after hit before she hit it big. In fact, she was fired from her job as a TV reporter because—ready for this?—they declared her “unfit for television.” Yeah, okay. Good thing she didn’t believe them.
- Thomas Edison: Okay, so today we equate this name with invention and brilliance. But when he was a kid, Edison’s teachers were less than encouraging. Said he was too stupid to learn anything. So, adulthood was better, right? Yeah, not so much. He was fired from his first two jobs. Enter his inventor years, during which he invented the light bulb…after 1,000 failed attempts! Perseverance, thy name is Edison!
- Abraham Lincoln: We all know Lincoln as one of the most successful and revered presidents in history. But that didn’t happen until he’d been demoted from captain to private while in the military, he’d started any number of businesses that failed, and he ran for public office—and was defeated. Over and over. So glad he kept at it!
This is just a short list of folks who have had to overcome adversity, opposition, rejection, and failure to reach the heights of success. And I believe they made it because of those two special ingredients: patience and perseverance. They didn’t let failure derail them. And they didn’t expect success NOW. They just kept at it, doing what they knew to do, believing in themselves and their calling.
Let’s follow their lead and stay the course.