Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why Life Takes Perseverance--Especially the Life of a Writer

It's blog chain time again. This round, we've decided to blog on whatever we want. Scary, huh? So I've chosen to go the more serious route this go-round, especially with the new year looming. I'm fairly certain Kate has posted before me and Sandra will be up in the next couple of days.

Alert: This is rambling, totally true, personal life-story with a lesson (hopefully) at the end.

So I'm a writer. I'm not in the closet about it. If you could possess one quality for writing--or for life--it should be perseverance. That's my lesson for today. I'm sure my experiences are not unique, surely every one of us has had something we've had to endure. For me it was college.

And the story might want to strap yourselves in.

I graduated from high school with several Advanced Placement credits under my belt. Picture the band geek with straight A's. Yeah, that was totally me. Feeling pretty good about myself, I enrolled at the local university and my AP credits filled some general electives--classes I now didn't have to take. Nice.

Then I got married. Young, I know--30 days after my 19th birthday in fact. I moved 150 miles south and enrolled in a new university after only one quarter at the one I'd just started. The new school took most of my credits. I worked hard and earned an Associate's degree by the end of the next summer. I'd been married 8 months, and out of high school for 15.

Then I moved to a new university. (That's number 3 for those of you counting. The applications forms, fees, transcript requests, letters of was a nightmare.) I attended this university for a year and a half before my husband's job transferred him 300 miles south. the middle of July, 9 months pregnant with my first child, I moved to Southern Utah. It's hot there, in case you didn't know. Like really hot. Over 110 degrees the day we moved in. I thought that would be the end of college for me. 3 schools, over 400 miles from where I'd started, a baby on the way. I was done.

Or not. I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I needed to finish. My son was born in August--not the best time to go back to school. So I took a semester off and applied to Southern Utah University on the day applications were due.

I got accepted and drove 50 miles each way--with my four-month-old baby in the backseat--to attend classes. So with the 100-mile round trip with the screamer in tow, a husband who made $12,000 a year, and the thought that I wanted to teach (because there's big bucks in that *snort*), I went to college.

My husband quit working for the Jazz (the 12 K plus commission just wasn't enough) and got another job cleaning carpets. This allowed him to take a class or two at night. By now, I had to student teach. It's a lot more than attending classes. It's all day. So I enrolled my son in daycare and finished my degree.

Upon graduation, I got a job teaching music and art--not my major field of study, I have a math minor--in Alpine School District, back in central Utah. I will never forget the day I signed my contract. It should have been one of the happiest days of my life. It wasn't. More like the suckiest. My husband took my son down the street to the store while I filled out all the paperwork. I cried. At the desk with the lady in human resources looking at me like I was crazy. I'm sure she was thinking, "And we want this girl teaching our kids?"

Yeah. I was 22 and had worked my freaking butt off in college, was raising a kid, trying to make ends meet. I signed my contract in April, guaranteeing myself a whopping $22,091 for the coming year. Oh, but I wouldn't get paid until the end of September--for a job that started August 11. No joke.

So what did I do? What I always do: I persevered.

My husband and I moved in with my parents (gag) and spent the summer working. We managed to save enough so that we could move back to central Utah and I could start teaching. We made it from August 4 to September 30 without a paycheck. Major big time suckage.

Since then, things have gotten progressively better. My husband graduated, also in education. It only took him 5 years. And he makes slightly more than the 22K I started at. I now teach half-time and make more than I did when I started full-time. Because I worked my tail off again. With full-perseverance mode on, four years and 53 credits later, I had earned a Master's equivalency. It's basically my district's way of saying I have enough credits to have a Master's degree, but I didn't go through a university program to do it.

What does that take? Perseverance.

I warned you about the life story. I swear I'm almost done.

The point of all this? It takes an insane amount of perseverance to become a published author. It takes more than just writing. It takes writing a good book. Researching agents. Submitting. Getting rejected. Over and over and over. But if you persevere through all that, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Trust me, I've been through a lot of tunnels. There is always another side. The sun is usually shining on that side. And birds are singing, wildflowers blooming, the pleasant sound of the waterfall. Sure, sometimes there's that girl in the human resources department crying because her four years of struggling only netted her $22,091. Not all tunnels are created equal.

When I first started writing, it felt like college. And trust me, for me, that's not a good feeling. You work in college. You pay them. You don't get paid for all the work you do. That's writing. You write. You pay to send out queries, print manuscripts, buy a laser printer, etc. You don't get paid to do any of it. Until you persevere long enough to secure the agent and sign the publishing contract.

Now that's another contract I'll cry when I sign. And I will sign it. Because I know myself well enough by now to know that I can persevere long enough to do it. Because, just like that nagging feeling when I almost quit college, I have this bug in my head telling me to keep writing. I've learned to listen to that voice. Good things happen when I persevere through the quagmire to reach the end of the tunnel. The proof is in my past.

So go persevere at whatever you're doing! This New Year, make a goal for yourself and don't stop until you reach it, even if it takes more than a year. More than two. More than ten. A line from one of my favorite movies (major kudos if you know it). "No! Never give up. Never surrender."

Life story, over and out. Happy New Year!


H. L. Dyer said...

Awesome, awesome post! I think this is my favorite of yours so far. :D

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Bravo for you, Elana. I've no doubt you'll succeed in your writing career as well.

Anonymous said...

Words to live by Elana....

Anonymous said...

Incredible post! Way to grab onto what you want.

Michelle McLean said...

Awesome as always! You are so right...perseverance is definitely a must. I had to laugh over all the colleges. I started right out of high school, went for a year, dropped out for a bit, went back to a community college, then a university, then got married so had to go to a different yeah, took 4 schools to get my degree. And then another school for my masters. Keeping track of all my loans is impossible, and applying for anything that wants transcripts is a nightmare :D

Hope your new year is everything you deserve. I am so glad I was privileged enough to become your friend this year. I hope to be for many more :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow. All I can say is thank you so much for posting and sharing this!

Jenn said...

This post was so inspiring! I also graduated with some AP credits under my belt, only I was an orchestra geek instead of a band geek. :) I also had a full tuition and books scholarship to Ricks college in hand. Then I met DH and got married in August - just in time to miss my chance to go to Ricks. I'd only been 18 for 2 months when we tied the knot.

I've been to a couple of colleges over the years, but haven't received any degrees.

I've been telling myself for years now that I'm going to get published "this year." I remember telling people, "2006 is the year I'm going to be published." It seems a little discouraging, looking 2009 in the face and not feeling any closer to that goal.

BUT - I'm going to take your advice and keep persevering. Maybe 2009 will be that year for me. Maybe it won't. But some day, it WILL happen if I don't give up.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Great post! Sometimes perseverance is important for life in general, not only writing. I hope perseverance pays off for you in 2009!

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