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?