No Success? No Problem. It’s What We Do.

by Bill Henderson

This video caught my eye, because it put into perspective a reality fiction writers experience all the time: failure. If you’re going to write fiction, get ready; your work will ba rejected again and again. More often than not, to those you know and love, you will look like a failure.

An essential part of the maturing process for any writer is learning to soldier through the “failures.” You must. Otherwise, you might not be around for the succcesses when they finally arrive.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tamara December 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Failure is a fact of life for any profession. I’m trying to get a day job in IT right now–one of the most stable professions in the US. More jobs than candidates to fill them, the experts say…but for each dozen resumes I submit, only one phones for an interview (if I’m lucky). I have a single month’s worth of living expenses in my bank account and I can solidly project a total of one sale of my self-published novel to the nice little lady in California who brought me into the world. Sometimes I feel like locking myself in my room and crying, too.

But the fact of the matter is, it wouldn’t do any good. The only thing I can do is keep plugging away, filling out applications and moving on to other novels until something sticks. I’m not going to be the next Walt Disney, but I’m pretty sure with enough tenacity I can keep us off the streets.

2 Bill Henderson December 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Hard times, Tamara, but as Woody Allen said, success is mostly just showing up.

Plugging away, or the desire (or need) to keep plugging, is what eventually pays off. The economy’s awful, the economy’s great, whatever. As self-motivated fiction writers, the only thing we can depend on is our compulsive love of narrative and our personal tenacity. Everything else changes. Like weather. One day there’s a slight template shift in the profession, or an uptick in the economy. Your book is accepted and published to a handful of great reviews. Play your hand right, and presto, you’re a success.

BUT –– and here’s the crucial factor –– not if you’ve left the field. What if Michael Jordan had thrown up his hands and not gone out for basketball the following year? As tough as things may be right now, it seems me you’re well positioned for success.

3 Teano January 15, 2013 at 7:24 am

I mostly agree with everything that’s been said here. I suppose a lot of it depends on what you see as success or failure. I have a small amount of people that really like my story and have received positive as well as negative feedback. On one forum, I write together with 1 other person and I don’t think anyone ever reads it, but it’s the thing I enjoy doing most. Sometimes I might wish I had more readers, but the success (to me) is mostly enjoying what I do, and the only possible way of failing is giving up my hobby (something I won’t do). I try to see the positive side. Dwindling attention kind of takes the pressure off. If a publisher came along tomorrow and said, you know, I can publish your writing, but you’ll have to change this and this and this, resulting in me having to change the story in a way I didn’t like, I’m not sure if I’d be so happy with it even if the book did do well.

The bottom line is, to me, that no one can see the future. I was told even Lord Of The Rings was branded as silly and a failure when it first came out.

4 Bill Henderson January 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Success is defined in different ways for writers. For some, it’s money. For others it’s literary reputation. And so on. Depending on how you define it, “failure” is the reverse. The video says, “those who haven’t failed, haven’t lived,” the point being: failure builds character, makes you stronger. I’d say this is true for writers, but I would add: success is more than just trying again and again; if you don’t learn why you failed, you’re going to keep on failing, and for the same reasons. When I say “success,” I’m not so much talking about the outcome (money, readers, respect) as the story itself. Does it succeed on its own terms? Does it “work” the way it should? I also see failure a bit differently: for writers it’s built in to the experience, no matter how successful and experienced you are. Just as all baseball players fail again and again (even the greatest .300 hitters “fail” to hit safely 70% of the time), no writer will please everybody. What’s most important is to reach a point where you can tell your work is sound, but for other reasons failed to please this or that reader, editor, or agent. If that’s the case, you’re okay.

5 Katja Kaine (creator of the Novel Factory and aspiring novelist!) January 17, 2013 at 7:26 am

When I first started sending out query letters for my first novel, I did it with the attitude that almost nobody gets their first novel published, or will get any positive response from probably the first hundred or so query letters. So I might as well get all of that under my belt so I can start to inch closer to success in the future…

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