What Does it Take to Succeed (as a writer)? by Elena Hartwell

Many years ago, I asked my first acting teacher what was more important, natural talent or commitment to learning the craft? He didn’t even stop to think about it. “Tenacity,” he said. “Tenacity wins out every time.”

I never actually pursued a career in acting — though I did get some very nice reviews from the only show I ever did in New York — but as a writer I’ve often thought about the same question. What makes a writer rise to the top? My answer? Working on craft… and tenacity. Tenacity is the component every writer needs, because everything else comes from there.

Of course it’s nice to have both and I think most serious writers have at least a kernel of talent or they wouldn’t have anything to attach their tenacity to, but survivors in the arts keep at it. The last one standing really does get the part, the agent, the book deal… the wonderful, elusive, sought after, yes.

When I got my book deal for One Dead, Two to Go, (and Two Dead Are Better Than One and Three Dead, You’re Out J) it was not my first finished manuscript. It wasn’t even the first finished manuscript I pitched to my publisher. I’d sent them my third book, which they liked enough to offer suggestions and recommend I submit again. So I said, “I’ll work on that, but meanwhile, I’ve got this other book….” And the rest is history.

My point here, is whatever manuscript you’re working on is very important, but don’t get hung up on it being your only shot at publication. Write it as well as you can. Rewrite it as well as you can. Get feedback and rewrite it again, as well as you can. Pitch it. Maybe you’ll even find a home for it with an agent or publisher. But don’t let it be the end of your story. Write another manuscript. Write the next book. Write and write and write, because that’s how your voice gets clear, your work gets better, and your publishing dreams come true.

Write like your life depends on it, because your artistic life does depend on it, but don’t write like your artistic life only has one chapter. Write like you have an epic career with many stories ahead of you, because in the long run, isn’t that better than writing just one book?

There is no such thing as wasted time writing. The stuff we cut is the stuff we cut away from the diamond in the rough. If we didn’t write the manuscript we hid in a drawer, we’d never have been able to write the manuscript sitting on the shelf in the bookstore.

Scrape paint from the work of a Master and you’ll find another painting underneath. Mistakes are how we learn. The only failure is calling it quits.
--Keep the faith, Elena Hartwell

One Dead, Two to Go is the first in the Eddie Shoes Mystery Series. Private Eye Eddie Shoes investigates the death of a young woman. A young woman she’d seen alive and well and lounging around in lingerie the night before, along with Eddie’s current client’s husband. After her own client goes missing, victim or killer, Eddie can’t help but get sucked further into the case. In the midst of it all, Eddie’s poker-playing, card-counting, mafia-befriending mother arrives unexpectedly on her doorstep, with enough luggage to indicate a very long stay. The only thing that could make things worse would be to have her ex show up in Bellingham, Washington, as the new homicide detective in town. Oh wait, there he is now…  

Bio: Elena Hartwell was born in Bogota, Colombia, while her parents were in the Peace Corps. Her first word was “cuidado.” At the age of nine months, she told two men carrying a heavy table to be careful in their native tongue. She's been telling people what to do ever since. After almost twenty years in the theater, Elena turned her playwriting skills to novels and the result is her first book, One Dead, Two to Go.



Maggie said…
Great post. I especially like the analogy between writing and painting. One Dead, Two to Go is going on my TBR list. And the name Eddie Shoes is quite memorable. I'll mention it in an upcoming post of mine about character names.
Jacqueline Vick said…
Thank you for the insight. Your books sound fun! Congratulations.
Elena Hartwell said…
Thank you both! And thank you Marilyn for the opportunity to be on your blog.

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