Is Commitment and Hard Work Enough?

on August 27, 2009

I have tried to teach my kids that if they work hard enough, if they are committed, if they are willing to make mistakes and learn from them and get back up and try again and again and again, that if they have a passion for something and want it bad enough that they are willing to sacrifice for it, they will achieve their goals.

But that’s a lie and we all know that.

If it was only about the level of personal commitment, dedication and hard work, we would meet each goal we set. We would write the ten pages we set out to write. We would be published within five years. We would hit the New York Times list.

But quality is subjective. We may agree on a group of books that will never be published, and another group of books that are fabulous and worthy of bestselling status, but all the books in between must face the scrutiny of others and their success–or failure–has little to do with how good that book is by any objective standards. We work hard, we write the best book we can, it’s brilliantly edited, but its success is dependent on external forces that we have little to no control over.

Distribution. Cover design. Competition–both in-house and out of house. The season. The economy. A glut in the genre. Shipping. So many things factor into the success of the book, that we can be confident in only the book we turn into our publisher, that our dedication to the story and the hard work we put into it have given that book the best chance of success . . . because everything else is completely out of our control.

But still, knowing that my passion and career as an author is subjected to the variances of the business, I still teach my kids that commitment and hard work matter. I want them to have a passion for something in life. I want them to want something so badly that they are willing to sacrifice to achieve their goal. My eight-year-old is a talker. He’s also in his first year of football. If you talk too much, you run. He wants a new lego set that costs over $100 with tax. I told him that was a Christmas present level lego set. He wants to earn the money to get it earlier, so I said I’d give him $5 every day he doesn’t have to run a lap for talking or daydreaming. There are 49 practices. He has the chance of earning $245. He’s trying, but at the rate he’s going I don’t think he’ll reach $100 by the time the season is over. But he IS improving (and, he’s running faster too!) He had been running three laps, and now he hasn’t run more than one per practice (for talking) and has earned $10 after (cough) 20 practices.

Luke is learning football and he may be a decent player. I don’t know if he has the dedication–the passion–for the sport to be a great player, but right now he’s excited and he’s energized.

Sports is really Karin’s venue, but as my kids have grown I’ve been much more involved in their teams. I see the players who I know have the passion for the game, whatever sport they play. There are a couple high school kids on the football team whose passion is really baseball, and you can see that in their energy when they are in the diamond vs the football field. There are a couple kids who have an excellent shot at getting scholarships to play basketball at top ranked schools even though they are playing in Division V. They are in the gym every chance they get practicing. They are top high school players, they want to be top college players. They run drills, they shoot, they do a hundred lay-ups in a row and if they miss one go back to zero. Because they want it.

Writers are like that, too. We write and submit and keep writing, keep improving even when we’re rejected. And while we know that there are so many things out there we have no control over, our passion and commitment keep us working hard. We know there are many who won’t make it for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent or commitment. I’ve always believed that getting published is a combination of talent, perseverance, and luck. Because yes, there is a luck factor in getting published and luck has nothing to do with talent. But without talent, luck doesn’t come into play. Without perseverance to get through the rejections, to learn the craft, to push yourself to be the best damn writer you can be–you won’t be in the position to capitalize with luck comes your way.

In sports, however, luck doesn’t factor into it. With sports it’s hard work, talent, and commitment. And passion. Some kids will never have the skill level to play for sports. I couldn’t play softball to save my life. Absolutely no hand-eye coordination. Soccer, on the other hand, is about running, balance, and foot-work. I loved soccer, played for eight years. Could have played varsity in high school, but didn’t. Why? I had no passion for it. I loved it when it was “fun” but when I had to buckle down and live, eat, and breathe soccer? Um, no. I had the skills–I knew how to play and I was good–but I didn’t have the passion to work as hard as I’d have to in order to succeed on the Varsity level.

I love sports because it usually IS talent based. Players with passion plus talent are generally rewarded. If they make the commitment, go to practice, get better, have the skill-set, work their asses off, they are rewarded. In Varsity sports, it shouldn’t be arbitrary who makes the team. It’s a factor of all of the above and what’s good for the team as a whole.

Unfortunately, my oldest daughter, 15, learned a lesson I wish could have waited. That I’ve been lying to her all these years. That when I told her she could do anything she set her mind to, that her hard work, commitment, and talent would pay off, I was holding something back. That thing was other people. That people make decisions that have nothing to do with hard work and talent, and sometimes those decisions are unfair and arbitrary. I never expected it to happen in sports.

But we, as writers, already know it.

When I give my No Plotters Allowed workshop, I ask the audience, “If you knew today that you would never be published, would you still be writing?” If the answer is yes, then they are already half-way to publication. Because honestly, we all know that most unpublished writers aren’t going to published. Commitment, hard work, talent and passion is not enough–but it is your foundation. It is the rock on which you build your books, and hopefully a career. They are the requirements of a career author, and when you have that foundation, when you keep moving forward, improvement, looking for the “luck”–trying to make your luck through multiple submissions, creative classes, self-editing, whatever it takes–then you are in the best possible position to achieve your goals. Be proactive, be positive, be passionate.

When my daughter got the blow yesterday–something completely unexpected and out of the blue based on everything she’d been told for the last four months–a lesser athlete, a weaker person, would have quit. But she didn’t. She cried. She said it wasn’t fair. (I have banned “it’s not fair” from our house, but this time, I agreed with her one-hundred percent.) She questioned herself, and questioned everything that she’d been told. She feels lied to, manipulated, and emotionally abused. She began to doubt herself, but I wouldn’t have any of that. Because she is talented, she is passionate, she is as good or better, more committed, and more passionate than those who were given something she was denied. But more important, in the face of unfairness and adversity, she didn’t quit because she is committed.

I have never been so proud of her.

Make me as proud of you. In the face of rejection, write. In the face of adversity, write. When you fall, get up. If you want it bad enough. Sports is not for wimps, and neither is writing.