A noted story consultant and movie screenwriter recently passed along his conclusion that the most important attribute for somebody trying to break into the screenwriting and fiction writing biz is tenacity.
The craft can be learned, the social/PR network built over time, the manuscript buffed and buffed again, but—says this respected fellow—if you’re going to wedge your foot into the commercial fiction door, you must be long on try, try again.
You can try, try, try and try again, but if the market isn’t ready for what you’re selling, if the market is glutted with what you’re selling, then success isn’t likely. If your approach to the craft—be it screenwriting, novel writing, computer programming, or playing Chopin ballades—doesn’t jive with popular tastes, then your tenacity will only earn you that many more rejections.
And yes, popular tastes change, markets evolve. Those who persist are more likely to eventually see financial reward, but I’d argue that financial reward in any subjective undertaking is the wrong goal, and thus tenacity isn’t quite the top priority.
The most important attribute, says me, is that you love what you’re doing. The tenacity that’s borne of love will keep you going when the market is wrong and the trends against you. Love will keep you producing when no money, approval, or moral support is sustaining you. Love will keep you focused when success or failure try to derail your focus or threaten your confidence.
And I don’t think loving what you do should be limited to romance novelists. As a musician, you can spend months with your behonkis on the piano bench mastering a particularly difficult Chopin ballade, only to find three other fine pianists have put it on their concert repertoire for the year, and they’re ALL playing the same cities are you are, and two months before you get there.
And don’t get me started on the bewilderment and heartache that is parenting.You cannot parent optimally from any place except your heart, you cannot pursue music seriously unless you truly enjoy the music itself, and you cannot write love stories that connect with readers unless those stories come from your heart, too.
This is my theory, that we’re happier if we allow ourselves to care about what we do, and to pursue the things that reach our hearts. It’s counter-intuitive in some sense, because a life of ups and downs, repeated rejections, and successes that only flash in the pan, can be scary and painful—particularly if you’re focused on the ups and downs, rather than the privilege of indulging what you love to do.
Which brings us to my question: What defines success for you? Is it keeping the bills paid, staying on good terms with the boss? With your family? Maintaining physical health? Guarding your free time? Can you be successful if you aren’t happy?
To one commenter, I’ll send a signed ARC of “Once Upon a Tartan.”