The Page a Day Writers Group

One Writer’s Perseverance

Posted on: May 30, 2010

On the outside Margaret Dilloway may have not looked like a writer, even she had her doubts. But on the inside she had grit and a story to tell.  Here’s how she persevered.

Not long ago, I met the new Scripps College President, Lori Bettison-Varga, at a local alumnae event. My novel came up and she asked me a question I’ve been thinking about ever since. “What made you keep going?” she asked.

This is a fair question. I began writing this novel, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, while I was on bed rest with my youngest, who turns five in September of this year. Before that, I had written a different novel working with a different agent. No one bought that novel, a chick lit that probably would have been published in paperback, and she did not like this new novel. I had to get a new agent.

Before that, I had written a nonfiction book called BLUETOOTH FOR DUMMIES while employed at a Bluetooth technology company. This book was purchased, then canceled after I had finished. They let me keep the advance.

So what made me keep going? At some point, one would think I would give up. Suze Orman would pull her hair out over our finances, or lack thereof, and our harebrained faith in my writing ability. She would have told me, I am sure, to get a real job and bring in some real steady income and write on the side. My husband was not an executive, and our lifestyle was bare bones.

Yet I did not get a regular job outside the house. Of course, I know many writers who have day jobs, who can work long hours and then write until late at night, but I have my own particular limitations. I am not so energetic. I do quite a bit of freelance writing for income, and I have ulnar nerve compression, or tennis elbow. It was severe enough at one point that my doctor wanted to cut into me, move the nerve someplace better so my hands would stop turning into claws. Sometimes, doing my writing for pay simply uses up all of my physical ability for the day. I also have three young children who needed a great deal of care and attention. I knew that if I got a 40 hour a week outside writing job with an hour commute each way, I would find it far easier to stop fiction writing altogether.

To add to this, I had no writerly support system. I knew very few writers in San Diego, where I lived until last year. I did not get an MFA. I could not afford conferences. I worked in a sort of black hole, a vacuum where I didn’t know what was going on in publishing, what other people were doing, or the technical details of fiction. I only knew how to write by instinct, and sometimes my instinct was muddy.

Why didn’t I quit?

I guess the reason is two-fold. I am half-Irish, and my defining character trait, which my parents said comes from the O’Brien side, has been stubbornness. And I had this story I needed to tell.

Yes, my Bluetooth book didn’t work out, but I used the advance to get LASIK. Yes, my first fiction novel didn’t pan out, but it wouldn’t have gone to a major publisher even if it had. Yes, I had to find a new agent, which took two years of slow rewriting amid other work; but I found Elaine Markson, at Markson Thoma, who’s been in the business longer than I’ve been on this planet. Yes, there wasn’t a huge bidding frenzy for my book, but my editor at Putnam, Peternelle van Arsdale, helped shape it into something that is different than what it was, yet truer to my real vision.

One thing these experiences taught me: don’t be afraid of rejection. Someone is always going to reject you. You get an agent, maybe your book won’t sell. You get a publisher, maybe the contract will be canceled. It does not matter. Always, you pass one hurdle and face another.

What else is there to do but keep going?

Margaret Dilloway is the author of the novel HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, about a Japanese war bride and her American daughter, coming from Putnam Books in August 2010. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and three young children.  She writes the blog, American Housewife, at www.margaretdilloway.com.

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2 Responses to "One Writer’s Perseverance"

It’s like playing a musical instrument. You don’t worry about tomorrow, but instead set your sights on what you want to sound like in ten years.

Dr. B

Thanks, Margaret, for the reminder that it’s not just butt in the chair writing, but keeping it there. You’re journey has pushed me a little farther on mine.

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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