On October 5, 1843, a damp, dark night in Manchester, England, 31-year-old Charles Dickens walked alone. Dickens was the most well-known author in England at this time, with nearly a fourth of the population of England reading at least one of his magazine installments or novels. Solitude was something Dickens didn’t usually have in public places, as he was usually pressed by admirers in the thousands when he made public appearances.
But lately, Dickens was losing favor. He had sold more than 100,000 copies of The Old Curiosity Shop. And English people subscribed by the thousands to read stories he produced in weekly magazines. Oliver Twist was a great success, but then he had a few books that only sold 40,000 copies and then 20,000 copies. The publishers were threatening to cut his pay because people didn’t want to buy his new books. Dickens told his agent he would like to go to continental Europe and live a quiet life in a cottage writing travel pieces. He had some large debts and an artist’s confidence starts to flounder when his craft isn’t well received by the public.
Earlier that evening, Dickens was speaking to a large gathering at the request of his sister. He delivered a short, yet effective speech on the values of education and the perils of ignorance in support of a community center that was struggling financially. He did his duty and then took a walk to consider his own situation and what needed to be done. As he walked, a new idea came into his mind. As details of the story developed in his mind a strong desire to see it through grew in his heart.
Dickens returned home to London and worked on his new project as well as finishing his other demands. He would continue to take walks at night in London as he worked through the story. When at last he had the story outlined, he took it to his publisher Chapman and Hall. Though Dickens was excited and enthusiastic about this new book, the publishers were not. They rejected this Christmas story with ghosts before it was ever written. Christmas was only two months away and they would prefer that he develop a new magazine they could sell subscriptions to.
Dickens wrote to a friend, who had helped him get his start with the publishers. He said, “Don’t be startled by the novelty and extent of my project. Both startled me at first; but I am well assured of its wisdom and necessity.”
Dickens had resolved to make this happen and was determined to see it through. He was tempted to leave Chapman and Hall, but instead, asked them to simply print the book. He would handle all the details – editing, illustrator, cover, etc. He would do it alone if he had to but the book would be created.
The publishers agreed and Dickens worked tirelessly for six weeks. He finished “A Christmas Carol,” in mid-November and edited it mercilessly. On December 17 it was finally finished. He had 6,000 copies two days later. All 6,000 copies were sold in the first week. He sold 15,000 copies of the book in its first year. It would go on to be so well read that decades later, Dickens would travel through the United States doing readings from A Christmas Carol to more than 100,000 listeners. It’s one of the most re-made stories in movie and theatrical plays in history.
It is hard to look at struggles as an opportunity, especially since they don’t seem to come one at a time. Dickens needed to support a wife and four young kids with one on the way, heavy debts because of a large house he purchased a few years earlier and lackluster sales on his last two books. To hear your publisher say, “No thanks,” to your exciting idea, could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. But Dickens believed in himself and what he was working on. He was proactive. He decided to move forward because he needed to see it through.
What struggle are you facing in obtaining your goal/vision? Are you waiting for someone to tell you they believe in you? Believe in yourself and take action. Identify the next step and take it.