Failing Upward

Hi there, all of you shiny writers and beginning writers on the other side of the screen!

I’m here to bring you great tidings: you’re going to fail. Whatever you think you’re going to do with this writing thing? You’re going to fail. And it’s going to be amazing.

Um…. stop crying okay? Let me explain.

The truth is some of you won’t fail. And I feel very sorry for those. Because you’ll never discover what you could have been and what you could have done.

Twenty three years ago I THINK this week I sold my first novel. It was a literary fantasy.

As such things go, it wasn’t terrible. I mean, I have a genuine enthusiasm for Shakespeare, and I was genuinely interested in making it work. The story lines were things I was passionate about.

So, yeah, it pretty much was destined to fail.

But I didn’t know it. I was planning to establish myself in literary fantasy (snort, giggle) and then use that power to let them allow me to write space opera.

It didn’t work. Though weirdly, that series sold about what literary fantasy series sold at the time (less now) about 10k copies, but then the publisher took it out of print and told me I was a bad writer, and they’d never publish me again.

Fortunately I refused to be fired, and kept sending them proposals. And then they bought the musketeer mysteries, and I found out I could write historic mysteries.

And then Baen bought Draw one in the Dark and hot d*mn, I could write urban fantasy too. Then there was…. contemporary mystery, and historic fantasy, and Darkship Thieves.

The thing is, if I hadn’t been desperate, if I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I would never have tried half of those things. And I won’t lie to you, some of the experiences were horribly unpleasant. But then, boot camp isn’t pleasant either, but the boys and girls who go in come out fighting men and women.

If I hadn’t spent a collective few months crying my eyes out and thinking my life was over and I’d never be published again, I’d have absolutely no idea what I could do.

The last ten years have shows that I can make more money indie than Trad. Not that that is saying much. But now that I’ve realized that, I’m going to see how far it can take me.

And you know, if I hadn’t fallen so often, finding myself pushed out of trad pub in 18 would just have killed me. It about did anyway, though that might have been because there were physical things going on at the same time.

But instead, like that first series crashing and burning, it might have been my key to limitless writing and success. At least I hope it is. If I have enough time and good enough health.

The important thing is: I spent twenty years of my writing life terrified of failure. And now I’m not afraid anymore. I’m just doing it.

All of which I owe to having failed so much and so often.

Success Is How High You Bounce When You Hit Bottom. – George S. Patton.

Go forth, you beautiful, wonderful writers, you. Go fail.

On the bounce!

13 thoughts on “Failing Upward

      1. Actually John Ringo’s first Posleen War book was plucked out of the Baen slush pile. But I don’t know if that was the first thing he’d written.

  1. Depends on how one measures success. Rationally, the Washingtons are a pretty good indicator of success (though other dead presidents are well respected, too, when you receive their portraits on little green pieces of paper). Everybody wants more Washingtons.

    Well, they want the stuff they can trade Washingtons for, anyway.

    Realistically though, if I sell like twelve books once I get this story done, I’ll call that good. It’s niche, it’s first person, its scifizombiesinspace, and the style is pretty janky. But twelve books? I think that’s an achievable goal.

    Maybe move the bar a bit higher for the next one. We’ll see.

  2. Yeah. Most folks are paralyzed at the thought of failing at anything. They stay within the safe confines of what they think they do well. They live lives of quiet desperation because they are so hobbled by it. You can’t really be good at something unless you start out bad. (Except maybe if you are a freak of nature.)

    I realized that in my teens and spent a lot of time then trying out things I was bad at, but needed to be good at so I could get good at them. Science and math was hard, history and English was easy, so I took science and math classes (and even failed one completely in jr high school. I persevered and eventually became an engineer. There I prospered (even though others were better at math and science), ironically because I was good at history and English. Engineers need those skills and my contemporaries had avoided them because they were bad at it. So I, an average engineer became the voice of my group.

    Same with writing. I wrote a lot throughout my life. The early stuff was really bad. Eventually I got good. When I was invited to write my first book by an editor, I said, “I’ve never written a book before.” He responded, “Maybe it’s time to start. I decided he was right. And kept writing new ones since then. If I had been afraid of failing I would have never started.

  3. If you’re willing to learn, failure is the best teacher. I know I’ve had my share of failures. Some of them real doozies.

    1. Sort of like learning from horrible-warning coworkers. I gained more insight into personnel management from one supervisor than from a dozen business books. “What would [Norman] do?” and I do the opposite or close to it.

      Failures – having four PoV characters, dropping one and adding another mid-book. Don’t do that.

  4. If you never fail, you’re never testing your boundaries. Which means if you never fail, you have no idea of what you’re actually capable of.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: