Thoughts on Failure

I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately. Failure to get more done during the week. Failure at having not gotten more done BEFORE the baby. Failure to not submit half as much fiction as I should have over the past ten years, despite having a hell of a lot more time, even *when* working full-time. Failure in the shape of persistent fiction rejections when I *do* submit. Failure to keep up with old friends. Failure to step out of my comfort zone to make new ones. Failure at not being as far along in my career as I’d like to be. The list goes on and on inside my head.

And recently, even the NY Times Magazine had a whole issue on failures, and my mother shared another newsletter from her spiritual community which also talked about failure. Those last two, though, took a different look at what failure is and what it means. One thing in particular stuck out to me with particular force in the newsletter: While Babe Ruth held the world record for home runs, he also held the world record for strike-outs. When he swung at the ball, he swung hard–and didn’t always make it. Look at Hershey, even: who repeatedly failed and went bankrupt at least once in trying to set up his own candy company. Or the employee who brought him the idea for Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, to which Hershey said no, he didn’t want to make them, but at least graciously allowed the guy to use his suppliers to make them on his own. They’re now the #1 best-selling Hershey’s product, all thanks to Reece who didn’t give up when his boss said it was a stupid idea.

Failure is inevitable, especially if you want to be good at anything. Rejections are a part of writing, and that’s something I’ve come to recognize and accept–even embrace–over the years. But in my everyday life, failure haunts me. The guilt of not doing X or not being as good of a mother/human as Y–because s/he can do so much more than me and STILL raise her/his young child, so who am I to complain that I don’t have time?–overwhelms me and robs me of some enjoyment of an otherwise very happy time in my life.

In some ways, I can even feel guilty about being happy, because of all the other stressors piled up on my back. How dare I be happy? Don’t I realize it could get WORSE, and that I better start worrying now so I’m prepared for it?

How messed up is that?

One of the things I’m only beginning to understand now is how to let go and forgive myself when I’m not as accomplished/talented/productive/fiscally viable as I’d like to be. The idea that “failure is only a failure if you don’t pick yourself back up” is very comforting during times like this. And the guilt is just a bunch of wasted thought depriving me of otherwise good days. I don’t have time for that.

Every day, I’m finding new ways to get a little more done. Every day, I’m getting a little better at learning how to juggle keeping the Little Guy happy and entertained, while *also* accomplishing things I need to get done. Every day, it’s getting a little easier.

So why guilt myself when I’m actually taking the baby-steps I need to get where I want to go? There’s something to be said about bite-sized progress and meeting smaller, more accomplishable goals. In fact, I’ve even started setting 2-3 medium-sized goals a week to try to achieve, and so far, have managed to hit them almost every week. I can’t write a novella in a week, but with dedication and patience, maybe I can write a solid 3k. I can’t clean up the entire apartment, but I can get the bathroom looking decent.

And I’m starting a small business, which I’m super excited about, even in as much as it stresses me out trying to get everything organized and think through every detail of its finances. One baby step at a time!

Journal, Publishing/Editing, Writing

When Do You Know a Story is Dead?

trashed_pagesI have this story. I’ve been rewriting it from scratch since last February. From scratch. I think I’ve come close to four or five total drafts of this story.

I’ve changed POV. I’ve tried different tenses. I’ve added characters. I’ve altered the plot in major ways. I’ve started it in different places, hoping to find something more effective.

I love the core idea, but it’s Just. Not. Working. And I have no idea why, which is the most frustrating part. I’m beginning to get the feeling that it’s me–that I’m lacking some specific tool set to help me overcome the invisible wall that continues to block this story. It’s not that I can’t get a rough draft. I’ve written several at this stage, but each one has major problems I can *feel* in a vague, intuitive way without being able to specifically identify them.

I’ve talked before about the stages of mastery, and right now I’m sunk deep in that second, infuriating stage: Conscious Incompetence. I know it’s not working. I know I need to do something to fix it. But I’m at a complete loss to identify why it’s failing so badly.



So how do you know when it’s time to give up on a story? How do you know when the sheer amount of time put into a story surpasses the worth of the output? Chances are, it may take a while before I figure out what I’m doing so wrong on this one. I suspect it has something to do with the plot arch, but I have no idea how to make it better. It could also have to do with the dynamic of the two primary characters, and the complicated backstories for both. I at least managed to introduce a stronger speculative element in the last reworking, so that should make it more marketable once I can fix the rest of it, but everything else is such a tremendous mess, I’m not even sure where the path to the correct version begins. Each time I think I’ve got it, it implodes again.

I stall out in situations like this because I really believe in the mantra “Finish one thing before starting another,” particularly in application to writing fiction (and when creative time is so limited). It’s too easy to start a dozen projects and never get around to finishing any of them. But this seems like an exception to the rule. If you’ve worked and worked and worked at a piece, and it’s simply NOT WORKING, and no amount of forcing oneself to finish yet another draft is going to fix the issue without a major epiphany, is it better to soldier on or cut the failing story loose so you can hopefully move on to another project (and perhaps someday in the future, figure out what’s really wrong with this one)?

The Catch-22 of this situation is the author’s self-perception. Is the story *actually* failing as badly as I feel it is? Or am I being hypercritical? If it’s me being hypercritical, what’s to stop me from hitting this wall on every story I get down?

My only consolation is that I *don’t* hit this wall on every story. I’ve had plenty of stories that I had to work on a while until I was happy with them, as well as the rare (but lovely) scenario when a story has practically written itself. I only occasionally hit a wall like this that simply won’t go away.


At first, I thought I’d re-read it again, see if some forward momentum could get me through this current draft, but then I started thinking about it. Even if I finish this rough draft (which I would have to force, at this point, because it’s got a major logic fault-line through the center of it which I still don’t know how to fix with editing), it’s just another in a long line of failed rewrites. Maybe this isn’t a story I’m capable of telling at this point. Maybe I’m not quite ready. It doesn’t mean I won’t be able to fix it someday in the future, if the solution presents itself, but I have a feeling that there are some fundamental things I need to learn first. Hopefully, once I learn them, I’ll be able to resurrect this story.

Until then, I’m going to call it: Time of death is 10:21AM.


Day 20 – You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I’m posting this a bit earlier because it’s Friday, and usually I get distracted by Friday night, and therefore forget to post. At any rate, I’ve already gotten my writing done for the day, so might as well! 

Before I get into that, though, I’d like to recommend everyone who’s an aspiring author (or heck, even a semi-pro or established author) to check out Peter M. Ball’s post linking to two of Jim Butcher’s blogs about Scenes and Sequels. I just finished reading these two posts, and honestly, they just blow my mind. I feel like the information Butcher presents is–to some degree–something I’m familiar with, but only in that fuzzy, nebulous “it just felt right” kind of way. Having read this, I feel like I’ve got some logical tools at hand to really amp-up future fiction projects. And I’d like to add, that while Butcher’s examples of Scenes are somewhat pulpy (which I actually enjoy, most of the time), the thing that struck me particularly was how accurate his breakdown was even for The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy, which I finished a month or so ago, and that‘s a social society-strife novel with very little physical action (and yet still keeps you on the edge of your seat–for precisely the reasons Butcher mentions!)

It seems so obvious, now! :) Definitely check it out if you’re interested. Fascinating stuff!


WRITING/EDITING PROJECT: Far-future lifeforms! Pulsars! Sentient robotic trees! Seedling space-travel! Massive radiation poisoning! It’s all here, and being converted to flash fiction from 3,600 words.

Working Title: ”The Miracle of Jane”
Added Words: N/A
Total Words (to date): ~2000

Happening Today in the World of Fiction!: Death by solar flare! Despondent wards and moral questions! Vaporized minds! 

Notes: Rawr. Just…rawr… Today, I woke up with a massive fix to this story, one that pretty much solves all the weakness from the first draft and really amps it up to something that says something. Unfortunately, that meant rewriting one previously trimmed-down scene. Besides that, I also wrote the opening scene and the finale, and lo and behold: it’s 2k. To say I’m frustrated is a slight understatement. I can imagine chopping out an additional 150-200 words, but 500? That’s not happening. The story’s already down to bare-bones, and cutting 500 will effectively render it soulless. 

I’m a big proponent–usually–of letting a story be the length it wants to be (within reason). This one, it turns out, is just not a flash fiction story. I won’t force it. I’ve brought it down from 3.6k to 2k-even, and that’s a huge, huge improvement. The plot is better, the characters are more developed, the setting is richer, and the emotional conflict far more interesting, but I just…cannot…cut…out…more. Not without gutting the climax. Not without chopping down some of the few things that give this story heart. It’s just not a 1,500 word story. 

I will eventually get over the frustration of not being able to fit this one into the submission guidelines for a market I particularly wanted to try for, but at the moment, I’m feeling a bit defeated. This particular story isn’t one I haven’t sent out before. In fact, it’s been rejected quite a few times, occasionally from markets I’d really, really, really like to break into with very kind, encouraging rejections. One specified that it was very close, but didn’t *quite* do everything they thought it could have. Another said it made the final cut, but just didn’t beat out the other stories being considered. The problem is, I’ve already sent this story to my top/favorite markets, so even revised to 2k (and it’ll probably be a bit less than that once I’ve smoothed it out and polished it again) there just aren’t a whole lot of places I feel I can send it. There are some–don’t get me wrong, there are–but all those favored markets are already done with it, and I know won’t want to see it again, even rewritten. So it’s on to new markets, but where? Where?! Ugh, and then wasting a whole week on a revision for a project that can’t even go to those favored markets~! 

I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself, if you can’t tell, and I know this feeling will eventually pass. It was good that I got around to fixing this one, because I do think I solved a lot of the issues my favored markets had with it. It’s good that I edited this one, because I need the editing practice, and this experience has taught me how tight I can write when I want do. 

I can intellectually see the many pro’s of failing the initial goal on this one, but for right now, I think I’m going to wallow in it a bit and go watch a Project Runway or something. :0\ 


Days 12-15 – Ah, what a week it is…

Well, as one might have been able to judge by the lack of updates this past week, last week was something of a complete washout. I’m not quite sure what it was that derailed the week’s plans, but I’m going to be making a few changes for the coming week to see if that helps. But before I do that, I’m going to list five things that went *well* last week, because even though I wasn’t remotely as productive as I would have liked, and there were a number of personal things that came up that were out of anyone’s control, there were still a few good things I should try to remember: 

1. I finished FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury. — This is one of the few goals I actually met this past week (and that, technically mostly on Saturday). It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and my hubby was listening to it on his drives to and from Pittsfield, so we had a great time discussing it and the ideas therein. It was a lovely time, and we’ll have to do this again sometime soon. 

2. I ate better. — Contrary to last week, I had kefir and frozen fruit and bananas around the house, so that meant delicious (fibrous and protein-rich) fruit smoothies in the morning with breakfast! I’m still not saying I’m a bastion of perfect nutrition, but it was a big improvement despite my penchant for Eggo Waffles with Lyle’s syrup this week, too. :)

3. I had a good cello lesson on Tuesday. — I’m starting (slowly) to get the hang of bowing parallel to the bridge, though that brings with it its own challenges. I learned how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in one lesson, which is a huge and wildly delightful achievement, since I recall it took me almost a whole year to learn that little ditty on the violin when I was in first grade. I’ll take it! Plus reading THE CELLO by Elizabeth Cowling (my relax-before-bed read) has really opened my eyes to the mechanics of the cello and its history, which just makes it that much more fascinating!

4. The Baby is healthy! — And I’m right on target for weight-gain, so all things said, everything is actually really good. The baby’s been kicking up a storm this past week (little energy legs, and maybe the occasional fist bump, too), and the hubby got to feel it for the first time this weekend, which was awesome. If the baby being healthy and growing just as he should isn’t what matters most, I don’t know what is. 

5. I got out of the house and was social. — I actually got to enjoy some great friend time this week with two close pals of mine. With one, we had a chance to grab dinner and a movie, and with the other we went to IHOP to satisfy a BLT craving I was having at the time. It was delightful and refreshing, and while I perhaps let those things distract me from my weekly goals, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. It’s always so great to see and visit with them and to be reminded that we’re all in the same boat, trying to make our post-college lives into something we can be proud of and excited about. It’s not always easy, but I know we’re all on the right track, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. 

There were a number of other good things, too, come to think of it. Like so far (*fingers crossed*) not coming down with the flu like my dad and my hubby did this past week, and locking down some good editing ideas, and reading a bunch in MINDFUL BIRTHING (which is my go-to “calm the hell down; it’s going to be okay” book). I also discovered that writing by hand IS a lot of fun, and while it is slower (see below), it often results in some very snappy scenes and sequences that seem to lack the fluff I normally stick in when typing. The cats haven’t been especially obnoxious at night. I got a good ways towards finishing the Apex project, too, and just have a bit left to finish up Monday/Tuesday, and then that’ll be done. The hubby, due to said illness, got to come home a bit earlier than usual this week, which meant (despite wearing medical masks to limit my exposure that first evening) I got to spend a bit more time with him this weekend than usual, which is always a plus. That meant he was also here when he received some bad family news, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, but no less difficult to hear, which meant he wasn’t alone or driving back here when he heard. So all in all, it was a busy and good (minus the bad news) week, even if it wasn’t the week I’d planned or hoped for. 

That said, there are a few tweaks I’m going to make to my writing plans in order to hopefully facilitate a more dependable productivity in the coming weeks. 

1. I’m going to limit myself to editing OR rough-drafting one story a week. – I used to be able to multi-task multiple projects at one time, but lately I’ve found juggling projects much more exhausting and complicated. Perhaps it’s working on two short stories (rather than one short story and drafting a novel) that throws me off these days. Anyway, to see if the multitasking is part of what makes my head spin, I’m going to tackle one project at a time and FINISH it before moving on to the next, hopefully with week-long goals still intact. This next week, I shall continue the rewrite of “The Miracle of Jane” into a flash fiction, and see how that goes. Once that’s done, I’ll pick up where I left off on the octopus story, because so far, I really like it and just keep getting distracted by editing. 

2. I’m going to write in the mornings, after breakfast. — I tried the whole “write right when I wake up” thing, and it just doesn’t work for me. With the cats and my parents’ dog and my usual inclination to get warmer (the house temp (controls downstairs) is usually down pretty low in the A.M. and it’s up to me to adjust it to what I’d like), and then my pregnancy related need to pee first thing in the A.M. pretty much gets me up and moving too much to then feel justified crawling *back* into bed, and by then the fuzzy fluff-brain of sleep is pretty much gone. So I’m going back to writing after breakfast, since that actually saw results. Lesson learned!

I may try to read more in the afternoons, but I’m leaving that open-ended for now, since reading one book a week hasn’t actually been a problem as of yet. If it’s getting done, why change anything? Plus with various outside work that needs to be focused on a bit, my afternoons may be a bit wiffly for the next couple of days, and I don’t want to have to keep more goals in mind than the two above. Baby steps, I remind myself! Baby steps!