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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Day I Got Tired Of Failure

Back in 2004, I decided I was tired of being a failed writer.

I didn't really know how to turn it around, but for years I'd been a has-been writer, one novel published when I was a wee bairn and then a few scattered short stories since then. Editor-orphaned. Still writing, but everything sitting in a drawer. I was attending a writing group, but I'd kind of gotten used to failure as a steady state.

In 2005, when the new year hit, I decided I was done with that. I'd gotten good at failure, but it didn't have any appeal. Yes, I was a mom with small kids and sure, it was understandable, and of course the market was tough blah blah blah. I was tired of making excuses. I was tired of failure. Time to change things.

So I set myself a goal, and I made sure it was possible to achive through sheer effort. Ready?

I had one year to make my goal. I had to get either 12 acceptances or 100 rejections.

That was it. Either I had to get twelve pieces accepted, and it didn't matter how or where, or I had to get enough rejections that I could accept that I was not and never would be a successful writer. Period. There was no middle ground, and the glory here was that if I worked hard enough, I was going to make either one or the other.

Do the math: if I submitted 111 times, one or the other condition had to be reached.

The grind of publishing is that you cannot force success. You have no idea if you're really writing at peak performance, and you can always do better. You can't control whether your work gets accepted. You can't control how well your work will sell. You can't control your reviews. You can't control whether an agent will request sample pages or whether an editor will send your book to the acquisitions committee.

You can control you.

You can control the number of words you write every week (within limits -- build in a cushion for things like illness and unexpected emergencies.)  You can control what kind of pieces you're working on. You can control how much you learn about the business. You can control how often you submit your work.

In my case, I decided that was the way to go. I knew my writing was good enough, and I knew just barely enough of the business to get started freelancing. (I read two books to learn more about it so I stood a chance of hitting the twelve rather than the hundred.)

My overall goal was to earn a living via novels. I knew that wouldn't happen right out of the gate, though. I'd already done fabulously with one novel, but that had been ages ago, and then nothing. It was more realistic to send out small pieces. So I started scanning calls for submission and looking at what I already had. I worked on short pieces. I looked at the guidelines for magazines I read on a regular basis. And I learned how to write an awesome query.

From a career point, it was probably laughable. I queried a novel to agents and another to editors while simultaneously pitching nonfiction articles, poems, satire, and how-to pieces. It was a flurry of literary activity with no discipline. That's not how you build a career. Careers require focus. They require intense knowledge of one area.

But you know? Along with the rejections, the acceptances started coming in. I even got a couple of checks out of it.

I went to a writer's conference and pitched a magazine editor, and instead of being nervous, I realized I didn't care if she rejected me because even if she rejected me, her rejection got me one step closer to my goal.  (She didn't like that, by the way. I think I was supposed to simper, and I was all out of the need to simper.)

Sometime in November, I hit my goal. I'd made contacts and had money coming in, and I had my first two pieces with a magazine that eventually would list me on their masthead, and I had short stories awaiting publication. Twelve acceptances. I don't remember now how many rejections. Maybe seventy? It didn't kill me.

So for 2017, set yourself a goal. Make it something you can reach without having to control anyone else. Don't worry about doing it wrong. If you need to get yourself started, do something that will get you started and correct your course later on, once you're in motion.

I was tired of being a failed writer, so I changed it. As the year draws to a close, what are you tired of? What can you do to change it?



Jennifer M. Eaton said...

What a great way to look at your goals! Plan for failure, and your failure plan leads to success! I love this! (With wayyyyy too many exclamation points) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Great post! You had exactly the right attitude writers need to succeed (except I would have made the limit 200 rejections. I cast a wide net.)

I especially loved the part about having run out of the need to simper. I can't imagine an editor or agent preferring a simpering gushing fangirl over a talented goal-oriented working writer...

The point is, no matter what number you hit first, you would have succeeded. I doubt if you hit the rejection number first you would have actually quit because you would have learned too well the concept of what it means to be a working writer. Rejections don't end us. They move us on to the next.

And novice writers will benefit from this because the point is...you can't succeed if you don't try. Get working. Write anything. Write everything. Submit to the places you love, the places you have no hope in hell of getting into, and the places that will make you wonder why you even thought you had business submitting there.

Mine your opportunities. You never know what's out there until you start digging. And get started on your own success story!

Thanks for the inspiration, Jane.

Ghostworkers said...

It has just gone 2 a.m. in the morning here in downtown Dartford(UK) & must admit that your post on failure caused a smile.
Most of us writers go through this. Some have even turned failure into a art form!
And say Hi to your boss man & promise him you will edit you bio & list him first?
Cheers -Richard.