Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Success of Our Failures

After much debate, I am have decided to break an unspoken rule amongst blogging writers and make a confession. I decided that it would be better to share my tale of woe with the blogosphere and hopefully help some poor struggling writer, then to put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay.

I did win NaNo with my WIP, but I had to stop just afterwards because of moving. For a week and a half, the book sat on my hard drive unopened. During that time I didn't think about the characters, or the plot, or the conflict.

When I reopened the file, I had zero interest in the book. At first I thought it might be fatigue, but after reading through what I wrote, I realized there was something very wrong.

Remember how we talked about listening to your gut instincts? This is where it's imperative to have those instincts honed. You can't listen to your self doubt or that nagging voice that says you're no good. But if you feel like something is wrong in the pit of your stomach, then maybe something is.

Upon closer inspection I realized I didn't have enough sharp conflict, the main characters weren't the most interesting ones in the book, didn't have the most to lose or gain, and a slew of other major problems. Ouch. Some writers would just keep writing anyway, telling themselves they will fix it in revision, and maybe that works for them. But I couldn't continue, know there was so much fundamentally wrong with the book. 

I still love the premise. I still love the setting. I still love the characters. But I need to reimagine the story, and in order to be able to do that, I need some distance from the story.

So I set it aside.

It's incredibly hard to say that. It's like a golden rule of writers. You start a book, you finish a book. Period. It's supposed to be bad for your career if you admit you switched projects. "Agents will think you're a bad writer. They will think you never finish anything." 

That might be true. I hope it's not. I hope it's considered better for me to do what is best for the book and not adhere to some nebulous guidelines about writing. I haven't stopped writing; I am working on a new book right now. 

But it's hard to admit when the book throws you off track. It feels like you've failed. I've learned a lot from this manuscript, and when I return to it in a few months, I will be able to make it even better. But the sad truth for writers is the only tangible proof of our labors is a written novel. Preferably finished and edited too. Anything short of that, and it seems like you're not doing your job. You're not taking your writing seriously. You're failing as a writer.

In some ways, I do feel like a failure. This year was very hard on me. I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to. I wanted to have a finished book, edited and starting to query. I wanted to blog on a very regular basis. I wanted to take care of some things in my personal life. I didn't accomplish any of those things.

It's depressing. I had a love affair with a tub of chocolate peanut butter ice cream for a little while, I'm not going to lie.

But then I look at what I have accomplished this year. I have taken three classes on writing, and attended one seminar on the craft of writing. I have read over fifteen books on the craft of writing, and over fifty (or higher, I loose count) fiction books for fun. I have gotten married and moved twice in four months.

I have revised one book, and made the hard decision it wasn't good enough to be published short of a complete rewrite. I have started three books. I haven't finished any of them, this last WIP being my latest "failure". I have blogged on a semi regular basis, and have some really great people as followers, even if I don't have 5,000 of them. I have studied and learned about the publishing and querying process. I follow writer and agent blogs on a regular basis to keep myself current with the publishing world.

In my ice cream haze, I realized that you can't just measure your success as a writer by the number of books you churn out. We talk about not measuring success by "not published" or "published", but I've learned you need to take that a step further. You need to analyze everything else you've done, everything else you've learned. I didn't finish three books, but each time I learned something about my writing process. What not to do is the hardest lesson to learn, but it's also the most valuable.

Especially this last time, I could really notice the difference in my skill as a writer now, than the writer I was at the start of this year. There will be some growing pains, which seems to be what I am experiencing. I feel like I am reinventing my entire writing process. I've learned so much about querying and agents and publishing, but I have to put 90% of that out of my head while writing a book or I will choke up on all of the "You have to have ____ in your book."

I am training myself to write with purpose, but also with deep love and passion. I am taking things slow with this new WIP, and trying desperately to forget about the other three unfinished books I have on the hard drive. 

I hope my confession has helped any of you out there struggling like I am. Know that you're not alone, that writers go through ups and down. It feels like you're all alone when the book implodes and you have to switch gears or totally rework it. It feels like you're a big, fat failure.

But you're not. It happens. A write will learn from their mistakes, move on, and write another book.

I appreciate every single one of my followers, and any one else that happens across this post. Thank you for letting me share my failures, as well as my successes.

Has this happened to any of you? How you do measure your success or failure?

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