The theme that we’re going for this month is “People Who Inspire Us.” We’d like to spotlight people (whether we have names or not) who make us want to be better. This week, we’re taking a look at authors who persevered and didn’t give up on their gifts.
You probably already know the story of how Harry Potter was born. J.K. Rowling had lost her mother to multiple sclerosis, had divorced her husband of three years, and was raising her young daughter on the edge of poverty. She would take her daughter out for walks to help her go to sleep easier, and wound up writing (by hand!) in cafes and coffee shops. She had nothing left–so she had nothing left to lose.
The first Harry Potter novel was rejected by publisher after publisher until Bloomsbury picked it up. The story goes that the chairman of Bloomsbury Publishing gave the first chapter to his eight-year-old daughter to read, and she enjoyed it so much she immediately demanded the rest of the story. Rowling was given a £1500 advance and a suggestion that she keep her day job, since she wouldn’t be making much money in writing children’s’ books. But that didn’t manner–Rowling was in.
And we all know how that magical story ended. I solemnly swear I am up to no good.
Is the quintessential children’s book author. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Hop On Pop, Green Eggs And Ham, or How The Grinch Stole Christmas. But Dr. Seuss was not exactly a guaranteed success.
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street had a long road to publication. It was rejected by 27 publishers before Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s real name) had enough. He was dejected, and planned to burn his manuscript. He probably would have, too, if he hadn’t run into an acquaintance, Mike McClintock, who had just been made editor of children’s books at Vanguard Press. McClintock expressed curiosity about what Geisel was carrying, brought him up to his office, and McClintock and his publisher picked up Mulberry Street that same day.
Beatrix Potter lived in a world and time when women of her social standing were expected to marry well, and certainly were not expected to work. Of course, she did not listen to her parents’ wishes, and poured herself into her stories and watercolor illustrations. Fed up from rejection after rejection from publishers, Potter took the initiative herself. She self-published the first run of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and it proved so successful that it was soon picked up by one of the publishers who had originally turned it down. Within a year, Frederick Warne had sold 20,000 copies of Peter Rabbit, with Potter’s original watercolor illustrations. The rest, as they say, is history. Potter’s beloved characters continue to charm children even today, over a hundred years later.
Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire” is now included in many English classes, and you may recognize Call of the Wild or White Fang. But his road to becoming a published author was anything but Easy Street. London managed to rack up over 600 rejection letters from various publishers–and he kept them all. Call of the Wild alone was rejected more than 40 times. But he kept at it, kept writing, kept submitting. Before he died at age 40, he had published more than 50 works, both fiction and non-fiction.
You may not be familiar with J.T. Gregory yet, but I firmly believe that you will be very soon. I’ve been following his story from afar on Facebook, and this guy is downright dedicated to his craft. He is the human behind the Ditch Kitty Facebook page, a straight-up Cat Daddy, an animal advocate with a heart of gold, and an extraordinary writer.
Gregory chronicles his adventures (both cat and writing-related) on his Facebook page. He is currently in the process of trying to get his first manuscript published, and he shows an inspiring determination that I can only hope to emulate someday. J.D. and I are extremely excited to read “Night Goblins” when it finally does come out.
Other things to remember:
- Toni Morrison didn’t publish The Bluest Eye until she was 40.
- Frank McCourt didn’t publish Angela’s Ashes until he was 66.
- Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was told by one publisher to stick to teaching, because she couldn’t write.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing at 44, but didn’t publish her work for another 20 years, when she was 64.
If You Give Up, What Are You Missing Out On?
Giving up can be so tempting in some cases–it would be so easy to just throw up your hands and say “forget it!” But giving up could also mean that you’re missing out on something amazing just around the corner. If you’re determined, you can achieve great things.
Keep Working and Learn From Setbacks
Human beings are not perfect, and you are not going to win at everything you do. But rather than curling up in a ball and crying over a failure (or even after crying. Sometimes, you just have to cry it out.), take a deep breath and think. Why did this attempt fail? What can you do better? What needs to change to get a different result? Then work it out.
Now, I really hope that I don’t meander too long along this road and only start publishing the works I have in progress after my 80th birthday. But it’s important to remember the resilience of the human spirit. The authors above had so many reasons to give up, to put their work away and do something else. “Get a real job,” or “writing is not a career” are things that modern culture has drummed into us for a long time. Literature and music and art are hobbies, not passions. And for a long time, I believed it. I even went to graduate school to prepare for a “real job.”
It’s only been within the last couple of years that I’ve been able to put that conception aside and just write. It doesn’t even matter what I’m writing about. In the past year alone, I’ve written about adoption laws and essential oils, music teacher professional associations, phishing attacks, Irish history, and cybersecurity. And that’s just for the freelance pieces–there are other projects that I constantly have in the works, writing line by line between work and cooking and laundry and kids. But because this is something that I have deep inside of me that helps me be the person that I am, I can’t just give up on it. This is my story.
Your story might be a little different. Maybe you write stories, or maybe you draw or paint. Maybe you play piano, or you bake the most amazing cakes, or you write computer code and have an idea for the next great app. The point is–whatever you do best, whatever drives you and gets you through the day–keep doing it. Don’t give up on it. Don’t let go of that thing that keeps you sane. This is something I have to tell myself several times a day, especially when the day is long, frustrating, and exhausting. You probably have times when you want to throw in the towel, too. We all do. You are not alone.