The Story Behind The Help [And Why You Should Never Give Up]
“You is kiiind. You is smaaart. You is important.” Aibilene, The Help
The Help is one of the best fiction books I have read in years. And the movie made my list of Top 10 favorites. The story is incredibly moving, but today I want to write about the backstory — the story of the author, Kathryn Stockett.
At first, The Help was not well-received. In fact, it was rejected 60 times before it went on to be a NYT Bestseller. But for Kathryn Stockett giving up wasn’t an option. Her friends and family told her to stop writing or at least try a new story – one asking her if she was [possibly] afraid all the writing was just a huge waste of time. You’d think after 60 rejection letters from agents around the country, she would have thought, ‘maybe this isn’t for me’, especially the 40th that declared, “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.”
But for Kathryn, it didn’t matter if NO ONE saw value in her story: she knew her passion and the story of 10 black maids and a white girl named Skeeter must be written. She knew if she didn’t tell it, no one would — because it was her story, her vision, her dream. I read an article in More Magazine Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller where Kathryn said,
“I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter…I was still poring over my research in my hospital room when the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.” Determination, I’ll say!
Kathryn said she submitted letters to agents and wrote and rewrote the story for years. She continues:
“I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl…I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.”
She received 60 rejections for The Help before letter number 61 accepted her manuscript. What if she gave up after 3 or 33 or even 60? The Help – a story of marginalized women willing to risk it all for the sake of telling the truth and one girl with a heaping dose of courage– might never have been born.
Stockett was compelled to write and it didn’t matter that no one appreciated her story for years later. Or if no one ever did.
What were you created to do? What is your passion? What makes you pound your fist on the table and keeps you up at night? What can only you do? I believe we were created with a purpose. Each of us has a role to play in a greater story. But all too often the traditional path, busyness, the easy way, the daily grind, and rejection stop us in our pursuit of our passions. We make excuses, “I just don’t have the time or I’m really no good at [insert passion].” It might be true, but what if we consider fighting against the odds?
The world is full of people who give up. People who throw in the towel and quit. I’ve been there, and I’m sure most of you have too. There are plenty who simply play it safe and take the easy route. Then, there are the rare individuals like Kathryn Stockett who inspire many with their tenacity and will to fight to pursue their dreams – whatever the cost.
If you know in your gut that you are supposed to write or dance or sing or whatever it may be – listen to the criticism and listen to the applause, but in the end, never let either define you and what you know you must do.
Madeline L’Engle, another NYT bestselling author, says the way she keeps perspective is: “I started writing A Wrinkle in Time at the end of a decade of nothing but rejection slips. I had accepted myself as a failure as a writer, at least a failure in the world’s eyes. I was writing because I had to. Now I get a lot of absolutely marvelous letters, affirming letters. The only way that I can live with this is I answer them, put my answer in the mail, and forget them. Otherwise I could easily begin to take myself too seriously. And that would be death to creativity.”
Are you going to make excuses and let them tell you you’re no good or pursue your passion because you know — deep in your heart — you were created for this?
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