I have two articles pinned to my bulletin board. One is a magazine essay written by Kathryn Stockett, and the other is a newspaper clipping featuring Andrew Hallenbeck. I keep them there to remind me that talent is nothing without tenacity, and that giving up is never an option.
In case you don’t recognize her name, Stockett is the author of the bestselling book The Help, which recently was made into a popular movie. I read The Help shortly after it came out two summers ago. I was sure that it could not live up to all the positive reviews, but after the first chapter, I was so drawn in by the quiet power of the characters that I stayed up late and finished The Help in one gulp.
The Help is Stockett’s first novel. During the year and a half that Stockett was writing her manuscript, she, like most budding writers, didn’t have a publishing contract or a literary agent. She just had a story to tell about some black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, and the white families they served. Upon completion of her novel, Stockett sent it off to a literary agent. When she received a rejection letter six weeks later, she was undaunted. She continued to send out her manuscript to agent after agent. After fifteen more rejections, Stockett’s friends began to suggest that maybe her next novel would be the one to be published. But Stockett was undeterred, even after she received her fortieth rejection letter that read, “There is no market for this kind of tired writing.”
Stockett admits feeling battered by all this rejection, but she couldn’t let go of her story. She remained faithful to her characters, believing in them and herself enough to keep tinkering with her manuscript and sending it out. In the end, she received sixty rejection letters. Then, three and a half years after she first sent out her novel, the sixty-first agent accepted her as a client. This agent turned around and sold Stockett’s novel to a publisher in just three weeks.
Writer Gustave Flaubert must have had a future vision of Stockett when he wrote, “Talent is nothing but long patience.”
Andrew Hallenbeck, like Stockett, is very talented, but his name is probably not one you’ve heard of . . . yet. The newspaper clipping featuring eighteen-year-old Hallenbeck comes from our local paper The Inyo Register. Hallenbeck has spent much of his life on stage acting, singing, and dancing his way through local productions put on by our active community theater. Despite only one year of formal dance training, last winter Hallenbeck sent in an audition tape to The Julliard School, the prestigious college of music, dance, and drama. His performance was good enough to earn him a chance to try out. As one might expect, the competition was intense, and Hallenbeck was cut early in the live auditions. With a determination that belies his age, Hallenbeck approached the audition director and asked for another chance. His tenacity earned him another audition, but afterwards, Hallenbeck was again cut, and denied acceptance to Julliard.
But that is not the end of the story.
The Julliard dance director was so impressed with Hallenbeck’s second audition that he called Hallenbeck’s local dance instructor (who happens to be an internationally renowned choreographer who recently relocated to this area) and explained that in his opinion, Hallenbeck had talent. Enough talent that with another twelve months of training, Hallenbeck just might have a shot at being accepted by Julliard.
I don’t know Andrew Hallenbeck personally, but I have watched him perform for years. I agree with the Julliard dance director: he is one talented kid. When on stage, he is riveting. He shares himself wholly and unselfishly with the audience. I’ve also noticed Hallenbeck off stage. Every morning I passed him as he walked to school. He strided along with purpose, and in every step I could see the determination and vision he carried within himself. I could tell he had somewhere to go, and silently, I cheered him on.
Writes Stockett, “I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript–or painting, song, voice, dance moves [insert passion here]–in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere.”
What if Hallenbeck, like all the others, walked away after being cut from that first audition? His dream of Julliard probably would have died, whereas now, he’s going to train for another chance. What if Stockett hadn’t kept sending her manuscript out long past when friends and family suggested she move on? We would have been denied a beautifully written book that for the first time gave a voice to the domestic black help in the South during the 1960s. There is no denying that Hallenbeck and Stockett succeeded and will continue to succeed because they put in the long hard hours of work needed to cultivate their gifts. But the trait they both share, the trait that pushed them to the front of the crowd, is that they are tenacious. They both coated their talent in persistent, indomitable determination. As Richard Bach wrote, “It is one thing to dream–it is another to hold on to that dream despite the odds.”
When I sit at my computer to write, now and then I glance up at the two articles pinned to my bulletin board. One about the writer who wouldn’t give up, and one about the kid who is determined to go far. Below those two articles I have another quote by Bach that I have printed in size 20 font. It reads: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
No one should put their dream in a bedside drawer. Not me, not you, not anyone. To have the courage to go beyond rejection is to succeed. May the spirit of Stockett and Hallenbeck remind us all that it is possible to go far when talent rides on the back of dogged persistence. When tenacity battles rejection and wins, just about any dream is possible.