Hubby has this book. I’m pretty sure it was “required” reading from his boss. It’s called Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you Learn by John C. Maxwell. I have not read this book. And neither do I plan to. Just not my cup of tea. And I’m not sure Hubby has read all of it either. It is, in fact, his cup of tea. He loves books that talk about better ways to live and think and look at the world. He loves to let them pile up and collect dust on the bedside table. 🙂 I’m giving him a hard time, though it’s 75% true. He does read, but he works full time and comes home to a frazzled wife who just wants him to take over baby-duty. Plus he puts the three smallest boys to bed, so by the time that’s complete, he doesn’t have much time (or energy!) to read.
But I digress. I’m not going to talk about this book, just the title. Because it fits in very nicely with my next post. I didn’t publish my first novel. Most writers don’t publish their first novel. When you hear, “So-and-so’s debut novel does this-and-that,” usually that debut novel was not the first they wrote. Sure, for some of them it is, but the reality of novel writing is stacks and stacks of unused material that takes up space on our hard drive or in our filing cabinets, but never sees more than a few beta readers. It can be heartbreaking, allowing that beautiful story to molder in the recesses of whatever filing system we use, but it is a necessary thing. And it is not a failure!
I recently read On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. A book review will come later! But the one thing that stuck out at me was how many times Stephen King failed. By failure, I’m referring to rejection letters. Granted, he knew he wanted to be a writer from a very young age. He was sending in short stories at around 11 or 12. And receiving letters of refusal. He was good enough they didn’t just chuck it in the trash and laugh at some kid who dared to send in a story. In fact, he started to keep those letters on a nail in the wall as proof that he was trying! Eventually, he switched to a stake in the wall, the letters piled up so thick.
And he didn’t necessarily view them as failure. He saw the progress. First, the letters were form rejections, nothing personal. But after a time he started receiving advice along with the refusal. I’m too lazy to go look up the examples he listed in the book, but they were words of encouragement, advice for how to improve, requests for a different kind of story. Progress! Not failure. And he did the only thing he could do from them: Learn.
When I trunked my MG novel, it was devastating. It felt like I had wasted years of research, networking, writing, imagining and learning, and for what? That book as it stands will never be published. I could have been writing something else. I could be published by now. I could be living my dream, right?
Wrong! If I hand’t spent several years honing my craft on that novel, I’d have been doing it on another. And the novel I just completed wouldn’t be as good as it is (that statement is subjective. 🙂 ) I had to learn somehow. It’s just like my first marriage and my second. Now, I’m not condoning a trial-marriage. No sir! Try to make that first one stick. But in my case, we didn’t treat each other very well. It took that failure for me to know how to treat a spouse better and also what is acceptable in the treatment of myself. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t gone through so many years of unhappiness. There are better ways to learn, yes, but I don’t regret my life. I learn from it. Because if I’m not growing through my mistakes, then what’s the point of living?
And what’s the point of writing? My second novel, writing-gods* willing, will be published. Whether it is and I start work on a sequel, or it isn’t and I find something else to write, the next project will be even better. It will take less time, be written better, and continue to improve my skills every time I sit down at the keyboard. That’s what your writing career is about. The hard work of progress and improvement littered with a trail of unused material and rejection letters. If you’re expecting that fairy tale career where your debut is published to rave reviews, you’re in the wrong business. It may happen, but it’s rare, and that’s why they call them fairy tales!
What failures have you experienced and what did you learn from them? Would you take them back if you could or was the lesson too valuable?
*My sister would call this writing-Jesus. She’s a reporter, and news-Jesus helps her out with good stories every now and then, but I wasn’t sure how it would sound in context so I went with a more neutral noun!
Newbie Post #7: Where I talk about Beta Readers and why they rock! Most of the time . . .