Friday, July 6, 2018

On Being A Failure As A Writer

For a full year, it was the entire focus of my efforts.

The flavor of success was in my mouth, having finally after 30 years managed to publish a thing.  Not print out a thing.  Not put a thing on this blog so's twelve people could read it.  Not self-publish through Createspace so's I can have a thing that looks like a book which three of the aforementioned twelve people can buy.  Hi Mom!  Hi Dad!  Hi One Other Person!

But publish, with a real publisher.  There were reviews.  There were articles and interviews and a wee little book tour where I sat up there on panels and answered questions like I was somebody.  Surely, surely, this was the beginning of the path to being An Awe-Thah.

So having written, I was again writing.

The manuscript, something I was excited about, something that consumed my thoughts and my energies.  It was High Concept Historical Fiction about the collapse of empire, about how the use of weaponized information and a Persian psy-ops campaign of subversion brought down Babylon, one of the most powerful empires in the ancient world.  It was a thing that really happened, and a thing that shaped the arc of my faith tradition.

It felt painfully relevant.  Real.  Exciting.

There would be more success, surely, because the abundance pump was primed and Prosperity Jesus was smiling down upon me with His Perfect Jesus Teeth.

I delved into libraries, poring over historical texts.  I crafted and refined character charts.  I played with timelines and a multiplicity of interwoven storylines.

Then for two entire months, I wrote, my muse lost in her loom of tales.  Fifteen hundred to two thousand words a day, for nearly sixty days of sustained effort.  Battles and wild characters, murder and an epic tale of betrayal and collapse, all singing to the power of words to change the arc of nations.

Or something like that.

Then it was done.  Well, not done.  Not done at all.  It ain't done 'till it's done.  There was an edit, and there was another.  I shared it with close and trusted beta readers, and after taking their inputs seriously, I made even more edits.

Tens of thousands of words fell away, as those first edits cut deep.  It felt tighter and more refined.  I chattered eagerly about it to friends and family and random bystanders.

And then I printed it out, and the printer churned through a painfully expensive amount of ink.  The resultant stack of paper was big and hefty and manuscripty, far more satisfyingly real than just hitting the send button.  A mailer was secured, and sufficient postage attached, and off it flew to the first of the folks who would shepherd it through the many gates that lead to more winning: my agent.

When she was done, she called me to talk about what she had read.  After some pleasantries, her words, as I recall them, were, "David, there's an important story to be told here.  And you haven't told it."

It wasn't saleable, in her opinion.  Just not viable.  Not even worth pitching.

It would have been easy to get snippy in response, but one of the cursed things about having an agent whose taste in literature you appreciate is that you can't simply dismiss their insights out of hand.  Your ego may quail and howl, but a good agent is a good agent.  They do what they do because they love writing as much as  you do.

And just like that, a year of work up and died in my arms, limp and cold and stillborn.

What do you do with that?

You move on.

There's some weeping and sackcloth and gnashing of teeth, sure.  You question yourself.  Your muse goes off to her room to scream and throw things and kick holes in the wall.  You do not write for a while.

But once the last guests have left the pity party and the last of the sad black emo balloons have been ritually popped, you move on.

You have to move on, and write again.  And fail again, and write again, and fail again.

Failure is how writing works.  Failure is its fuel.  Failure...and overcoming failure, again and the only path.

It's a bit like the evolutionary process, I think, the endlessly iterative cycle of failure following failure, until that one primal mudskipper clambers gasping up onto the beach and does not suffocate in the painful naked void of sky.

It's how you adapt, and improve, and grow.

Lord have mercy, but that's just the way life is, too.  Life keeps trying.  Life finds a way.

So I'm excited about writing, because I just finished this book proposal for another manuscript, and it's got legs, I tell you.

Or leg-like fins, at least.

I'm sure of it.