I’ve been writing for more than a decade now, and I’ve failed a lot in that time. Like…a lot.
Failure in writing takes many forms. The most visible is getting rejections* for stories. This has been the easiest form of failure for me to accept. I made a conscious decision pretty early on that I wouldn’t get ruffled by rejection.I mean, Bradbury had something like 800 before his first sale. And this was back during the Golden Age, when writers could make a living off of short stories.
After a few hundred rejections, I finally started to sell stories to pro markets. I still collected more and more rejections, but now there was a hole in the dark clouds. I could do this. I could write stories that were good enough to get published in pro mags.
This brings me to the kind of failure I’ve always had trouble accepting: story failure. Whether it was something with the prose, character, plot, or just the fact that I didn’t have the talent, I’ve always had a tough time when I realize I fucked up a story.
Writing more and getting incrementally better, didn’t mean I fucked up stories less. Getting published didn’t mean I fucked up stories less. However, the ways in which I fucked up stories were less egregious. They were easier to fix in post (after I learned to edit more effectively).
Like most writers, I’ve always wanted to tell stories for a living. And, for most writers, that means novels.
I can’t fucking write a novel.
Oh sure, I’ve started dozens of novel projects. Some of them got to 1000 words, and some got to 50,000. Some were sci fi, others fantasy, others horror. Some of them I hated when I began, but started to love the more I wrote. Others got me crazy pumped from word one, only to deflate me by word 1000.
I’ve finished one novel project. One. It wasn’t even a long novel. Just 85,000 words. And it sucked. Oh boy did it suck. It honestly was more an incoherent amalgam of random ideas. Everytime I got bored, I added a new storyline.
Fuck, was it discouraging to spend two months on a single story only for it to be broken so beyond my editing ability that it might as well be unfixable (no story is truly unfixable, but some fixes can seem overwhelming).
I love novels. I love the form, especially novels that can tell a big story in a single volume. That contented feeling you get from finishing a good novel, well, it’s singular and specific; unable to be replicated except by reading another good novel.
I wrote that novel, I think, six years ago. I haven’t finished a novel since. I haven’t finished many stories since.
But I love writing and I love telling stories. My writing output has lagged for a variety of reasons, but I never stopped wanting to write. I love every part of storytelling: brainstorming, outlining, getting the words down, editing, submitting, getting rejected, submitting again. I love the physical act of typing. I love getting so deep in a story it’s the last thought in my head before going to sleep, and the first when I wake up.
So I’m writing again. That’s the good news. Some, well, less than good news, is that the cogs in my writing brain have gotten seriously rusted. They even felt seized for a time. But I broke them free. Now, I need to put in the words to get that rust and corrosion off, so the stories can run smooth.
And that means I have to re-learn to fail. I need to learn to fail better. I need to learn to fail gracefully and fail upward. I need to be okay with failing on a massive scale, because failing on a novel is like failing on 20 to 50 short stories, all at once (word count wise).
Learning requires failure. It sucks, but it’s true.
So yeah, let’s start failing again.
*Just submitting a story to a market is most definitely a type of success, though!