When I was watching the press conference prior to the Yankees home-opener against the Orioles last week, I saw Derek Jeter interviewed. He was asked at one point about his success in 1996 and not being able to predict his career path then, but how could he be so confident that he would focus on baseball and not get caught up in any distractions. What he said in response resonated with me, because in many ways, it was what I think about writing. (The question comes at the 6:45 mark if you want to jump right to it.)
What Jeter says (with a little cleaning up on my part) is:
I came up in a culture where you were never promised a job. We had to perform in order to keep our job and that’s the mindset we had going into every season… If you didn’t do your job, the boss would get rid of you. So every spring training, every off-season, I trained and prepared for the opportunity to win a job. So I never take anything for granted.
I very much believe in this philosophy when it comes to my own writing. Almost no writer is promised a job (e.g. a story sale, a novel sale, etc.) at the outset of his or her career. You have to earn it. For a rare set of people, this may not be difficult. There are geniuses in all walks of life. But for me, it meant 14 years of practice, 14 years of persistence, and 14 years of enough self-confidence to believe that I could eventually do it. And as Jeter points out, that is just the beginning. “If you didn’t do your job, the boss would get rid of you.” I put in my best effort on every story that I write. Not all of them are good enough and I don’t win every job.
Still, I practice every day. I write every day. I try new things in my stories, and while I am no all-star, I think I am making steady improvements. What Jeter says is something that I thinks irks some new writers trying to break in and make their first sale, be it a novel or a story. There is a belief out there that writing really isn’t that hard, that there is some formula or trick to getting published–or, if self-publishing, being a success. If there is, I don’t know it. The only trick I know is working as hard as I can at something I love. As Jeter says, I never take the job for granted, never assume that a story of mine will be published, and never assume that just because one story had a measure of success, another deserves equal success.
For me, however, I like the hard work. The satisfaction of seeing a story in print and knowing how much of an effort you put in to make it a success is worth every minute of effort.