Monday, November 24, 2008

Hard Headed

My daughter’s always liked money. When we brought her home from the hospital, friends and family came to see the new baby girl. My friend’s dad handed her a silver dollar, as is the Greek tradition... she grasped it in her tiny little hand and wouldn’t let it go. He said that was a good sign – it meant she’d be good with money.

When she was five, she was infatuated with bills. Didn’t matter if it was a single or a twenty, but she knew enough to like the paper more than shiny quarters. One day she asked me how she could get her picture on money. Kind of a shocking question for a five year old. She pointed to the pictures on the bills and asked again, and I tried to explain that they were all great men who helped build our country.

She didn’t take me at my word, or it was enough of an obsession that she had to double check me, because she asked her teacher about it the next day at Kindergarten. She came out the door triumphant, with her big blue eyes dancing and a grin that took up half her tiny face.

“You have to be a president to get your picture on money, mommy!” she said, jumping up and down.

“Oh,” I said, “yes, most of them were presidents.”

“Now all I have to do is figure out how to become president.” She clapped her hands and danced around...

Don’t you just love five year olds? Easy cheesey, just become president... that wouldn’t have even occurred to me at five, it would have been an out of reach thing... or maybe that’s just how I view it now, as an adult.

My daughter has a lazy eye. She had to wear glasses from the age of four and patch the stronger eye to build up the weak one. Today she doesn’t need glasses or a patch, but her eyes work independently. Most people automatically look at things with both eyes, hers don’t work that way, she can easily be focused with one eye but not the other. It’s just part of that particular eye condition.. They’re straight, we take her for regular checkups, the only real inconvenience is that those eye tests where they put your face in the little viewer (like at school or the DMV) she’ll always fail those... she can’t pass them with her particular sight issue.

She just had to take one of those eye tests at school and I got the traditional note telling me to have her vision tested... You’d think the nurse would write my name down, because we had this conversation last year. Anyway, my daughter and I had a little conversation about why she can’t pass this test and why her vision is like that. And in saying that it really doesn’t make any difference as long as we keep making sure that the sight is even in both eyes, I mentioned that she’ll never be a fighter pilot. (If you didn’t know that, you need good vision for that job, she’d be out of the running before she started).

“What do you mean I can’t? What if I want to?” she asked, scowl firmly planted across her brow.

“Well, I don’t make the rules. You need perfect vision.”

“What if I fly better than anyone else? Think they’d make an exception?” She asked.

You could see the little hamster running behind her eyes.

“No, I don’t think they’d make an exception. Since when do you want to be a fighter pilot?” I asked.

“Since you told me I can’t.”

I don’t think she really wants to be one, it was the end of the conversation in any event, but it was the idea of having a door closed for her, without her choice to close it. She’s stubborn and she’ll have none of it, and I waver a bit between trying to teach her to live within reality and being damn proud that she’s got enough backbone to want to make her own reality. Screw the rules, let’s rewrite them.

So, I thought about my daughter’s character, along with all of the doom and gloom assailing publishing with the current economy... or the regular doom and gloom that assails the unwashed masses of unpublished authors after a few good years of query hell.

I think you need that hard headedness to keep at it. Sure, we all hear stories about the author who had three agents clamoring to represent them and sold at auction on their first book... we hear about them because they’re rare... if it happened all the time, it wouldn’t be worth repeating in awe. Sometimes those great stories can give you hope. Other times you compare their reality with your own, and yours doesn’t look so good in the contrast.

And we can get into the need for work on your craft, the ability to self edit, to follow rules, to work with critique partners, to study the industry... and the million other things you need to do to educate yourself for success as an author. But I think the most important quality is stubbornness – the absolute refusal to believe it when everything around you tells you that you can’t.

That hard-headedness will give you the drive to keep improving, instead of giving up. It’ll tell you to knock on the next door, when the last three turned out the lights and acted like they weren’t home... even though you just saw them scurry in the side door... (I’m not advocating stalking agents, relax... but that is what it feels like when they don’t respond at all... especially the ones you know normally do respond all the time)

So, what do you guys think? Does stubbornness rank up there as a top quality for you? Or do you have a laundry list of other qualities that trump it?

18 comments:

Travis Erwin said...

I'm stubborn, real stubborn, but having said that I am as frustrated with my inability to advance my writing career as I've ever been.

I am still determined and still believe I will get there, but I am now considering option I never thought I would.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Travis,

I'm probably as frustrated as you are... my last bout with query hell was about enough to make a sane person quit... fortunately, I'm not sane enough to take the hint.

So, I get you, I really do. Don't self publish - just don't. Keep going the regular way. Use any kind of writing references you can get. And keep going. WE all know you're going to make it. It's just a matter of when.

Lillie Ammann said...

Merry,
Hardheadness, stubborness, or as my mother used to call it: stick-to-it-tiveness ... whatever you call it, it's critical to success.

Stephen Parrish said...

Does anything trump stubbornness? No.

I am still determined and still believe I will get there, but I am now considering option I never thought I would.

Consider it all you want. Just don't do it.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Lillie,

stick-to-it-tiveness - yep, that's it. I like that term.

I think it's critical, too, possibly more important than any other quality. When you see mediocre writers making a living at it, I think most of them just wouldn't give up - and there's more to be said for that than talent alone... after all, talent's a gift, it's the work you do to improve it and get it out there that counts.

Hi Stephen,

Thanks, sometimes I just need someone important to agree with me :-)

Colleen_Katana said...

This little girl is kindred spirit. For me it's the challenge. I like to do things to say I did them regardless of the fact someone told me I never could. Of course, this isn't true for everything and not my motivation behind every ambition I have...but I was the same way as a kid.

And I have TERRIBLE eyesight. -950 in each eye. I used to be insecure about it when I was younger, but she seems to have accepted her eyesight a lot better than I did!

Colleen_Katana said...

OH and as for self-publishing...it's a tough road to go down, but the really interesting thing is I've been working at a publishing company for almost 3 months now. And in those 3 months, the company has bought at least 4 books that were self-published. It didn't even phase them that they were self-published...I found it REALLY odd because all I've been hearing since I started writing was "DON'T SELF PUBLISH!!!!!!AAAARGGGG!"

Maybe it's just this particular company and they're the oddballs for not really caring...I'm not experienced enough to know. But it's an interesting factoid I thought I'd pass along. Oh, and for the record, the books the company bought sold somewhere around 500-1500 on their own.

night lightning woman said...

Haven't commented in a long while, but I congratulate you. Sounds like you have a natural born feminist. And a stubborn one. Great traits for an American woman. One can be TOO stubborn, but only we can decide what that is for us. It's a prime survival trait. Sunday I learned of a woman in her 70s who has written professionally all her life and written novels in her own time all her life. Said she burned most of them, because she wasn't satisfied. Now she has one she is shopping around--and meantime has started another. Now that's stubborn. Back in the 60s, I was told I would never be hired for anything but society news because women just weren't hired for major news. Ha! I perservered, did get hired, and these days women are all over journalism. If you want to do something badly enough, usually you can find a way to do it--writing or flying.
Happy Thanksgiving--time to be grateful for our lives, our family,friends, and the chance to break new ground. And if the original Pilgrims hadn't been stubborn, they wouldn't have been alive to celebrate that first Thanksgiving. I think this holiday is a paen to stubbornness, actually. And to giving thanks for it.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Colleen,

Yeah, it's the proving them wrong bit that sometimes gets you going... I was a bit that way, too. I'm odd in that I'm a realist, who also happens to be a dreamer, so sometimes it clashes a little...

Congratulations on the job in publishing!!!! I knew you were looking but didn't know you'd found one - huzzah! Do you like it?

Hi Night Lightning Woman!

So nice to see you! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! When you get down to it, stubbornness is one of my favorite qualities... it's not supposed to be a good one, it's one you're supposed to guard against. But when you look at people you admire, that acheive great things... hell, all of the founders of this country... they all had it. I think maybe the trick is to be just stubborn enough, but not so much that you're blinded to everything else.

Zoe Winters said...

Stubbornness is definitely something I pride myself on. Stubbornness and being difficult! haha. :D

Colleen_Katana said...

I do like it a lot, thanks! It's still only part time though, so I'm still searching for that permanent, full-time salaried position with benefits and whatnot.

spyscribbler said...

I had a friend who wanted more than anything to be an astronaut. She was only in sixth grade at the time, but it had been a five year obsession. I still remember when she found out about the vision thing. Today, she could have had laser surgery, but...

I love your daughter! I hope she will be president. :-)

Merry Monteleone said...

Zoe,

We must be kindred spirits - those are the two qualities I most pride myself on :-)

Hi Colleen,

I'm so glad you found something you like... I'm crossing my fingers for you that it becomes full time.

Hi Spyscribbler,

I feel like the world is a lot more open for her than it was, even for our generation of women... but that's due in large part to the many of us who wouldn't take "you can't" for an answer.

Thanks for stopping in.

silken said...

way to go kiddo! she may well end up w/ her pict on money one day!! I like her style and I am sure it will serve her well in her days ahead. My kids are pretty hard headed too, and I am hoping it will become an asset to them as well!

Pinhole said...

I'm not even sure I like writing. But I seem to like having written. And at times it's like an open sore that you just can't let alone.

I don't even think I care if I get published. There are just some things that are better if they are outside of me, rather than inside.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Mary Witzl said...

What a great kid, and how I love that answer -- "Since you told me I couldn't." That's how I felt too. Nothing drives me crazier than someone saying "That's not for you."

We've got a friend whose daughter wanted to be a fighter pilot for the RAF. They told her she wasn't tall enough (for what it's worth, she's 6 feet tall). She's now a pilot for British Airways and we figure it's the RAF's loss.

I'm stubborn and I sure hope it's good for something. I do think it's at least as useful as having an elegant turn of phrase.

Ello said...

I'm terribly stubborn and I understand that it can be both a curse and a blessing. Both for myself and others. I have been learning to become more reasonable with my stubbornness.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Silken,

Your kids have a wonderful foundation to go along with that stubborness and I have every confidence they'll be fantastic!!!

Hi Pinhole!

I don't even think I care if I get published. There are just some things that are better if they are outside of me, rather than inside

I have to tell you, having read a pretty good deal of your posts and poetry, you deserve to be published and people would love reading you. But I totally get the idea of having the need to have it outside rather than bottled up inside your head.

Thanks for stopping in Pinhole. Great to see you and I hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving!


Wow, Mary, your daughter's a pilot now? That's awesome!

I'm hoping stubbornness goes a long way - I like to think I can turn an eloquent phrase, but I know for sure I've got an abundance of backbone.

Hi Ello,

Then you're a step ahead of me... I like my stubbornness the way it is... you'll all just have to walk around it :-) Kidding of course, some things you have to give on, or at least look at with an open mind... my mind closes when someone tries to convince me I'm not worth what I think I am... or even what I hope to be.