Writing and Motivation

By Carlos Portocarrero

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One of my favorite novels of all time is Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. He also wrote The Virgin Suicides, which I have not read but have been meaning to since I first read Middlesex.

Well today I was running a Google News search for “Foster Wallace,” as I tend to do about twice a week (he’s my all time favorite author and I’m always on the lookout for a new article or book he puts out).

I was pleasantly surprised when this interview with Jeffrey Eugenides came up. If you have read either book and enjoyed it (or if you are just plain interested in books and the process of writing), then you owe it to yourself to check it out.

He discusses the writing of Middlesex, how long it takes him to write a novel compared to other writers, his next novel, and how he got his first agent (one published chapter of The Virgin Suicides was all it took).

He comes off as a little cocky, definitely sure of himself, and brimming with confidence. Which I can appreciate as much as the next guy, but kind of put me off about him.

Then I got to the part of the interview where he states why he “made it” while so many others don’t:

“Generally people conduct their lives almost utterly through their imagination of themselves and who they want to be. But you start as a writer in college and you continue writing and some of your classmates stop, or they never publish a book, and you wonder, is it just luck? Did something happen to them? Or did they just not stick with it in some way? And I think the only thing I’ve ever had on my side, more than a flashing ability or a talent or anything like that, was a determination not to quit. Tenaciousness is what got me to publish a couple of books, I think.”

[bold is mine]

Tenaciousness. It’s something I’ve written about before and I still truly believe in—one of the most important traits a person can have in their favor when it comes to achieving a goal of any kind (be it publishing a book, starting their own business, whatever) is persistence.  

Why? Here are three reasons:

  1. You have full control over it: It’s possible to never stop trying. It may be a lot of work and a lot of pain/sweat/tears, but it’s entirely in your hands.
  2. Talent is rare: Very few people get touched with that special talent that allows these kinds of things to just “happen” to them.
  3. It’s unstoppable: Really, as long as you put the time into it and plan accordingly, persistence will not be denied.

I know it sounds a little cheesy, maybe even a little overoptimistic (especially in this anti-dodgeball era), but if you actually apply to it real-world situations and goals, it makes sense. The problem isn’t the theory of persistence, the problem is us. Rarely, if ever, do we devote ourselves so fully and totally to something.

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