F is for Failure

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Dear authors, you will fail at many things in the years to come. Just today, for instance, I have failed many times at writing this blog post.

Ahem.

However, and more to the point, you will fail at writing your stories, and that is more troubling to deal with than, say, a burnt quiche (depending upon how hungry you are, and how much you like quiche). It is truly a terrible feeling to sit down at the computer, your mind brimming with ideas and your fingertips fairly dancing, and spend the next hour feeling like your brain has been dragged backwards through a hedge, and you have nothing to show for it. You were absolutely sure you had this story down pat, after all. You were composing it in your head! You had come up with wonderful sentences, only now that you see them on paper the words are very, very wrong.

To be honest, I wish I could tell you that you would, from Day One, write wonderful novels without any typos or other flaws, publish them into a niche market upswing, win universal and international acclaim with well-deserved piles of money, and somehow still maintain your privacy. And if you do, in fact, accomplish this, I wish you well and will only be a little bit jealous. I know some people who have come really close to this, and they’re all fantastic individuals. Unfortunately, and I hate to blow their cover, these are people who have also known failure. JK Rowling didn’t start out rich, George R.R. Martin took YEARS off from writing after his career failed to go anywhere, Hugh Howey spent ten years working in bookstores. Even Stephen King didn’t start out with a bang.

So what about failure? What about the legitimately good aspects of failing? What do you learn from having one of your stories hit the market with a whimper rather than a bang – or having readers and critics alike hate it? Your stories pull the emotional guts out from inside you and show them off to the world – and there’s no hurt quite like someone looking at that and going, “eh.”

So let me tell you about failure. In my first ten months as an author, I sold two books. Two. They were $0.99, and I only sold TWO. And you know what that taught me? Sometimes you only sell two books, and the world keeps right on spinning, and you still love writing. Pretty reassuring, that. And not to spoil you on the process, but what happens after that is you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and write another book. And that next book is better, because you have more experience under your belt, and more confidence that you can write a book, and the daredevil thrill that says, “I’m going to bare my soul to the world and see what happens” – because that thrill is addictive. And lest you think that failure will dog you forover? Less than two years after that first dull thud, I had sold 20,000 books, which was something I wouldn’t have thought possible when I started out.

Failure makes you dig deep. Sure, your writing will push you to emotional lows and highs you didn’t know existed as you grapple with portraying the entire range of the human experience. It’s not only getting into your character’s head, after all, it’s finding the words and sentences that will breathe life into them. Writing is a fraught endeavor, one Robin McKinley aptly described by saying, “Every once upon a time for me is another experience of white-water rafting in a leaky inner tube.” Even more emotional draining than writing, however, is failing at writing, and you will inevitably do so. When you do, I hope you remember this blog post. I hope you think to look up JK Rowling’s quotes on failure. I hope you take solace in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I hope you clutch your mug of tea and realize, in some distant corner of your mind, that things will not always feel so awful. That you are going to love writing just as much tomorrow – and that you will know more about the process, and push gamely onwards.

Good luck. May you fail often, and succeed gloriously!

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