Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Narrow Gate

Posted by Lynne

A few days ago, my teenage son asked if he could go somewhere--do something with friends--that he knew I would say no to. To his credit, he accepted the disappointment respectfully, adding how hard it is for him when he can't have what he wants or do what everyone else gets to do.

My son and I have a light and easy relationship so I agreed, and with my arm around his shoulder said, "I know it's seems hard now, but someday you'll thank me for shaping your character."

He laughed, rolled his eyes and sighed, orchestrating his body language as only a teenager can do. He said, "Mom next time stop before you get to the shaping character part. It doesn't really help to know that."

Discipline--a word that means to learn--whether it feels forced on you by others or it's self-imposed, it isn't always easy to learn your lessons. Rejection, rewrites, rejection, revision. "It's not for me." "It's not there yet." Talk to any successful writer, and he or she will tell you getting your character shaped is a trial. And I'm not talking about the characters you write about.

In the readings of my faith, there is a metaphor for taking the path to a deeper spirituality; everyone has the opportunity to take the road, but you must pass through "the narrow gate." There's a narrow gate on the road to a literary life too.

Early in my own experience of acquiring an agent, and working with an editor, I took each rejection or critique personally. I stood firm on things I now realize are the inevitable compromises a writer is required to at least consider, and sometimes required to make. "Change your title." "Move this chapter." "Add a character." "Lose a scene."

In the beginning, I struggled to acquiesce. Sometimes I reluctantly made the changes, sometimes I stood my ground. Yet as each character-shaping lesson was learned--true compromise experienced-- I felt stronger, more capable of accepting the next demand or challenge.

Recently, it's become crystal clear to me that living a literary life means becoming comfortable with life in and around the narrow gate. Regardless of the fantasies of big advances, universal praise, and reader adulation, no writer escapes repeated passes through the restricted access door. Read Tess Gerritsen's blog if you don't believe me.

Does becoming a successful writer mean embracing the lessons agents, editors, reviewers and readers try to teach us? Even if we're bruised and battered, do we force our way through the tight space, willing ourselves to withstand the pressure until things ease up again?

I wish the path was wide open and all of us could pass. In reality, it is difficult to get through it and one pass won't be enough. I've chosen to shove, squeeze, even ram myself through it nonetheless. How about you?

11 comments:

Lisa Marnell said...

Lynne,

I never would have guessed that tenacity is likely the most important characteristic a writer could have. Love of language, imagination, ability to work alone, all of these are important. Yet, it certainly is a willingness to face that narrow gate you describe time and again that is most helpful to a writer.

Thank you for this great image. Revisions I now face are intimidating, yet (after some admitted low moments) I face these with enthusiasm; I'm sprinting up to that gate - no small thanks to you and Amy and Hannah.

Thank you.

BTW, how many days until NEGOTIATION GENERATION hits the bookshelves?????? I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Lisa

The Writers' Group said...

Hi Lisa,

You're right, there are so many qualities needed to "make it" through. You've got them all! Good luck with your revisions.

It is the five day count down until Negotiation Generation is in book stores. Yeah!

Thanks for all you've done to help me make it a reality.

Lynne

Larramie said...

Dreams, all our dreams have a narrow gate. Yet there is that opening, a legitimate opportunity, and that's what our character needs to remember.

Enjoy the countdown to your passage through one of those gates, Lynne!

Melissa Marsh said...

Yup. Shoving, squeezing, shape-shifting, you name it!

Lisa said...

This literary life seems an epic journey, each milestone marked by a gate, a wall, a doorway and then followed by more discovery. I'm early into my journey and my small markers are those most of you have long left behind, but it's a comfort to find the breadcrumbs and the footprints you leave in your path for others, like me :)

The Writers' Group said...

Larramie,

One of the nicest parts of the journey is accepting the kindnesses offered by those we meet along the way. Thanks!

Lynne

The Writers' Group said...

Melissa,

Keep up your push toward success. If you persevere, it will be yours.

Lisa,

I don't know what I'd do if it weren't for the generous writers who have reached out to me to lend a helping hand. I'm glad The Writers' Group can do that for you.

Lynne

John Elder Robison said...

Well, I still take the criticisms and changes personally but I nonetheless make the revisions and learn from doing so. And I do move forward.

The Writers' Group said...

John,

That's the way to get the job done. Good luck with your launch. Lynne

Shauna Roberts said...

My graduate school class started with 22 people and dropped to just a handful over the next four years. One of the other students made the observation that it wasn't the smartest or most talented students who were left, but the most stubborn. (It was also those who were willing to jump through the necessary hoops and accept guidance from their advisors.)

Becoming a published writer seems to follow a similar path. You increase your chances of success by sticking with it, no matter what, and learning from others.

Congratulations on finally squeezing through the eye of the needle.

The Writers' Group said...

Shauna,
The more persistence one is, the more one learns. When you learn the nuances of craft, your writing gets better. It all makes sense, it's just challenging at times. Stick with it, and you will find your way. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Lynne