At Granta, Kent Haruf writes:
When I finished that novel I wrote John Irving to ask if he would connect me with his agent, and he said he would. He said he had sent fifty writers to his agent and he hadn’t taken any of them, but maybe he’d take me. And he did: I got a telegram from the agent (there were still telegrams back then) and he said he was impressed by the book and wanted to represent it. That was a great day for me. The book was The Tie That Binds, and after a few months I got a call from an editor at Holt, Rinehart and Winston and he said they wanted to publish the book. That was another great day. The book came out in the fall of 1984. Except for one very tiny story, that was the first thing I ever had published. By that time I was forty-one years old and had been writing as hard as I could for almost twenty years. If I had learned anything over those years of work and persistence, it was that you had to believe in yourself even when no one else did. And later I often said something like that to my graduate students. You have to believe in yourself despite the evidence. I felt as though I had a little flame of talent, not a big talent, but a little pilot-light-sized flame of talent, and I had to tend to it regularly, religiously, with care and discipline, like a kind of monk or acolyte, and not to ever let the little flame go out.
All of this resonates with me; the long time horizon (twenty years of writing to get to the starting line!), the notion of believing in yourself balanced with a modest—realistic?—appraisal of yourself, and taking action steadily.