Mark Terry

Monday, November 23, 2009

Have You Failed Yet Today?

November 23, 2009
I've been thinking about failure lately. Partly this is due to reading an article about California in Time Magazine from a couple weeks ago. They noted that among the start-ups out in California and the entrepreneurial types, it's practically a badge of honor to have a couple failures behind you.

I think by now we all know that Thomas Edison attempted around 10,000 different techniques on his way to developing the electric light bulb, saying they weren't failures, he just discovered the 9,999 ways that didn't work.

A gentleman known as Colonel Sanders reported wandered around for years offering to cook his fried chicken for restaurants, supposedly over more than 2000 time, before opening up his own restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the rest is, as they say, history.

I remember reading something in a how-to writer's book or in Writer's Digest, somewhere anyway, that it said if all your queries were being accepted it was time to try new and better markets.

I think that's true.

I also wonder about the folks out there (I know there's a couple of you, but I'm not picking on you, honest) who wrote something, sent it out, it got accepted, and they were on their way.

I don't know whether to be wildly jealous or to wonder if they shouldn't stretch a little bit. Certainly they've got talent, but is their career where they want it to be?

Hey, everybody's reach outstrips their grasp some of the time. And if it doesn't, you must be sitting in a very comfortable spot, indeed. Or are you just afraid to reach for the brass ring?

I do think if you're going to be a writer, either fiction or nonfiction, you're going to fail. I can't think of a way around it. You're going to write something that gets turned down, you're going to work on a proposal your agent doesn't like, no editors will pick up, or that doesn't do as well in the marketplace as they hoped or expected. Stephen King, in the introduction to one of his short story collections, mentions a story, "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," that got rejected a few times, and comments that people claimed he was famous enough he could publish his laundry list. Well, that argument would probably work better if it hadn't eventually gotten published not once, but again in a short story collection. Still, the point is he was getting rejection letters.

At times I feel like the King of Rejection. I've had waaaayyyy too many novels rejected. I apply for writing gigs I should get, but don't.

And that's just life. I have a friend who runs his own company and one would suspect he's been golden his entire career, but from talking to him it's clear he's lost clients, had problems with clients, taken aim at clients that he hasn't been able to get to. He confidently told me that if he can get his foot in the door he can get work with them, but getting through the door is the trick. I actually understand that. From the POV of my freelance writing, I feel like that, too. If I can just get a publication to give me an assignment, I'll do a good job for them and they'll want me to do more work. Doesn't always work that way, but I'm confident of it anyway. There are other factors involved than competence and timeliness; personality and style come into play. But getting through the door is the tough part.

And I do think there's a dichotomy, a push-me-pull-you to this. Because although I think persistence is important and I think failure is a necessary part of eventual success, I also think sometimes people pursue things they might not be terribly well suited for and they'd find significant success in a different direction (success being defined by an external source, in this case, rather than by the person doing it; only YOU can decide what success means to you).

So, thoughts?


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I have a relentless work ethic, so . . . I don't know. "Failure's not an option" and all that. But I know I am stretching a LOT with this new wip, and I have no idea if I will "fail" (by whatever definition) or not.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I tried to write a spy thriller and failed at that, but I still use that research almost daily, lol.

I've been lucky where I'm at, but I've stretched my craft, always. I do play it pretty safe when it comes to my income. However, I will say I'm failing on a daily basis trying to write this YA/New Adult. But I'll get it. I've already failed at writing one genre, so I can tell I'm going to make it through this one.

Okay, now go look up JK Rowling's commencement address to Harvard, and it'll embed perfectly in this post. :-) I love what she says about failure. Agrees with you. It's my homepage and I listen to it nearly every day.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

My first comment is that if King's "Mrs Todd's Shortcut" is about the woman who keeps finding shorter and shorter routes to make a trip and is finally managing it in an impossibly shot time and coming back with alien bugs stuck to the winddshield, that's one of my favorite short stories of all time, right up there with some of the first Golden Age science fiction I read as a kid and I can't believe anyone would ever reject that!

My second comment is that a big problem I have as a writer is I don't write enough to fail often enough. Since Mary and I have been getting our Byzantine mysteries published I just haven't found time to write much of anything different. We did write one different kind of book and, yeah, it failed, so far. So we've done okay as far as it goes but you can't do "better" without trying different routes. Unfortunately I'm a very very slow writer, and that applies both to my fiction and to the legal work I do for a living and that's a bad combination.

However, I am right now actually writing a story that is different and perhaps totaly unsuitable for the anthology it is aimed at and therefore doomed to failue, so maybe I am making progress!

9:25 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I suppose it depends on how you define "success" and "failure." My work ethic tends to be rather relentless, as well. (A friend of mine pointed out on Facebook that my favorite word is "productive.") But I know that some thing just work out better than others. I hope that I get something of value out of the "failures," even if it's just the experience of that particular story, or I tried some new technique that didn't quite work out that time but will in a later work, etc.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

As I said to Erica, I hope I learn things from my failures or use some of them in something else. I'm reminded that the Prologue to The Devil's Pitchfork was something I tried in two previous failed novels.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Didn't that short story have her also sort of being perceived as the Goddess Athena? But yeah, the point was she kept doing shortcuts to the point where something really odd was going on. My favorite story in that collection, but apparently it got a lot of rejections.

I do sense that time and my perception of time can have some influence on how I might want to stretch or risk failure. The older I get the more acutely aware I am that I don't have forever to do things and my time might be better spent on some things than others.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Merry Monteleone said...

I'm actually getting pretty good at failing... practice makes perfect :-)

I've been able to snag freelance writing assignments for a number of years, and this year ventured into submitting articles for magazine publication... the very first article I submitted sold. And of course I've had rejections or not gotten clients in those arenas but it doesn't bug me when that happens, and the acceptances are great because they mean income, but, it's not the high getting a novel picked up would be... I like writing, but I differentiate between the fiction and other types. The one I'm striving for is the fiction, it's also the most elusive for me so far.

12:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home