Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Cockroach Theory of Composition

Hollywood tries to make perseverance sexy. It likes to churn out feel-good pictures where down-and-out dads achieve financial freedom, runty linemen make it onto the big-name college football team and addicted musicians croon their way into a nation's heart. Such narratives tell us that, yes, times may be tough, but a pleasant conclusion lies right up ahead, and it's awash in mood lighting and filled with a swelling orchestral score.

If only.

Anyone who has needed to plow through second (and sometimes third) jobs to balance the budget or has tried to manage chronically dysfunctional family members knows that sustained effort rarely yields neat conclusions. Yes, perseverance has its rewards, but it's a bruised and broken and bloody-knuckled thing. Just consider the story of New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon
as recounted in the Writing Excuses podcast.

Kenyon espouses something she calls the cockroach theory of writing: She wants to be so resilient that (much like the beetle-backed nasties) she'll still be knocking around even after the Bomb falls. Her career thus far must've proven good practice for it. Dropped by multiple publishers at multiple times due to marketing whims, Kenyon found herself homeless at one point with her husband and an infant, reduced to stealing stamps in order to submit queries. And even though she eventually regained her professional equilibrium, she still claims she needs that dogged perseverance even now: "It's not an industry for the meek."

Apparently it isn't. Kenyon's tale reminds me a bit of
literary author Jacob Appel, who (despite possessing an enviable bibliography) admits that he's only managed to land 0.75% of his submissions. Take a careful look at that number again; it's less than one percent. Yes, publishing is hard, but perseverance works, even if it isn't particularly pleasant. Half of the game lies in simply showing up for it.

(Picture: CC 1970 by
Pierre J.; Hat Tip: Chestertonian Rambler)


Unknown said...

Maybe the Honey Badger Theory of Composition?

Loren Eaton said...

What the ... what is ... I don't even know ...

Unknown said...

Honey badger just don't care. Trufax.

I doubt the honey badger would give up in despair after a rejection letter, for instance.

Loren Eaton said...

True nuff. Although I bet its grammar and composition are a bit rough.

Not that it cares. Because it's a honey badger, you know?