4 Ways Writers Can Make Tenacity Their Greatest Asset

By Nick Labonté.

Ask 100 writers what their greatest asset is and you’ll probably get 100 answers—from 25-hour days to a trust fund.

But look at the careers of some of the greatest writers and authors and you’ll find one common link.

Stephen King famously pinned every rejection letter he received to the wall with a nail—until the nail fell off when he was 14 and he replaced it with a spike. Carrie, his debut novel, would be published when he was 27.

While George R. R. Martin already saw some success as a short story and TV writer throughout the 70s and 80s, it wasn’t until 1996 that the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series would be published—changing fantasy forever.

Ursula K. Le Guin, who wrote more 20 novels, 100 short stories, and a dozen volumes of poetry, had a writing career that spanned nearly six decades.

Beyond their love of speculative fiction, it’s tenacity that brings these writers together. Whether you’re a young writer who’s still pumping out short stories waiting for that first publication or a veteran who isn’t sure if you still have stories in the tank, you should see tenacity as your greatest ally.

Here are 4 ways to do that.

1. Put all of yourself in everything you write (except your hopes and dreams)

I wrote my first novel in 2018, nearly six years ago. I made a lot of mistakes writing that novel, but chief among them was thinking all my hopes and dreams as a writer hinged on it.

That level of investment, of attention, of sheer stubbornness is essential to making great art. After all, if you’re not giving every bit of yourself to your current project, is it really worth writing in the first place? Whether you’re sharing an experience that changed your life, crafting a story that won’t leave you alone, or writing about something you’re an expert in, you need to go all in.

But, counterintuitively, there’s a place where that needs to stop.

As soon as you put that final period in that final draft, you need to treat it as done, as just another thing you finished. Sure, you’ll need to advocate for it if it’s going to get published, but if you start treating it as your ticket to the big leagues, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

And you’re making it harder to stick with writing when that thing, whatever it is, doesn’t turn out to be your golden ticket.

Tenacity means always being ready to work on the next thing. If you put your hopes and dreams into everything you write, it’ll be tougher to start all over again on the next one.

2. Do a little bit every day

I often get questions from newer writers. Sometimes it’s something as simple as “How do you become a better writer?” Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated.

My answer to that first, simple question? Write every day.

But I’m no Stephen King. Most of us aren’t. We have day jobs, kids, spouses, and other obligations. We’re not writing six pages a day.

But we can write one. Or one paragraph. Or even just one sentence.

Whether you want to get to that first publication or you’re halfway through a decades-long career and not sure how to keep going, remember to just do a little bit every day.

Despite the narratives you’ll see in movies, masterpieces aren’t built on a week of inspired, frenzied writing. Neither are careers.

They’re built on weeks, months, and years of tenacious work. On discarded drafts, deleted chapters, and red ink.

As long as you’re putting a little bit of work in every day, pushing the needle just a bit further than it was yesterday, you’ll always have some gas left in the tank.

3. Take breaks

If you’re anything like me, you tend to lean more toward the workaholic end of the work-life balance scale. You’re writing a book while working full-time, putting the finishing touches on a graphic novel during your lunch break, or even jotting down notes about your next story while you’re in the bathroom.

If that’s you, then you need to learn the value of taking breaks. Sure, your writing’s not getting done while you’re resting. But when you take the time to slow down—or even stop—you’re investing in that tenacity your career will need.

In On Writing, Stephen King suggests taking about six weeks away from your novel after you finish the first draft. That way, you come back to it with fresh eyes, ready to tear it apart for the second draft.

But those breaks shouldn’t only come at the end of a draft. Sometimes, you’re halfway through a project and notice your daily word count slowing down. Or it feels like your project is sucking the life out of you.

Take a day. A week. A month.

Unless you have extremely stringent deadlines from a publisher or some other external party, taking a break is always worth it.

4. Experiment

I’m both a writer of fiction and marketing content, and I can tell you that writing the same kind of thing over and over for years starts to get boring. You can only write so many 1,000-word blog posts about software integration before you start aching for a new challenge.

That doesn’t mean you have to take up a job as a trapeze artist to shake things up. But you need to do something.

That’s where experimentation comes in.

You can experiment with your process (maybe get a cheap typewriter and see what writing on that feels like), with your writing (try an experimental piece from the perspective of a squirrel in 1960s American suburbia), or even with your life (what if you took up painting?).

Whatever you do, remember that writing is a gift—even though it’s also a total chore. So keep things light and fun. You’ll be full of ideas and reenergized whenever you tackle your next project.

But why tenacity?

I mentioned that I wrote my first novel years ago, and I thought it’d be my ticket to being a traditionally-published, superstar author. It wasn’t. But this past year I self-published my debut novel, Fate’s Conscripts, to little fanfare and lots of support from friends and family. I’m not a superstar author. At best I’m an obscure indie author with 20 readers who has a full-time job as a marketer.

But tenacity kept me writing. Without it, that book would never have seen the light of day.

If you hang in there, if you keep writing, I promise you things will start happening. Things you wouldn’t believe.

Nick Labonté writes out of the suburban sprawl around Toronto, usually on a powder-blue typewriter he snagged for $25. When not writing, he can be found working on his lackluster marksmanship skills or getting winded after chopping a few cords of wood. Fate’s Conscripts is his first novel.

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