Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Failure

It took me fifty long years just to work out that because I was angry didn’t mean I was right.*

If your life isn’t what you want it to be, whose fault is that? You know who is responsible for my failures?

Me. I am.

Okay, I’m not saying there aren’t times we’re sabotaged or that something happens that ruins an opportunity for us, and it may be out of our control. But I am saying that much of the time the reason we don’t achieve our goals is because we don’t believe enough to strive to make them happen.

We give up. We quit. Or we set up roadblocks to our own success.

“Oh, so many other authors don’t get their first book published. I think I’ll go on and write another one,” and that after it took you five years to finish your first attempt. Or, “Well, I know I’ve gone over it four times and had it professionally critiqued but I still don’t think the ms is ready.”

Some people nitpick to the nth degree, and despite encouragement and support from experienced people in the publishing field they resist sending out their work. I once knew someone with an invitation from an editor, who’d read the synopsis and opening chapter, to submit the full. Did they do it?

No.

We are all at risk of playing mind games with ourselves, talking ourselves out of getting things done, because then we’ll have no excuses. If I finish these edits then I’ll have to send it out… If I get an agent I might get a book deal, I don’t think I’m ready… This isn’t a good time for me to get published… I’m not as good as so-and-so… You only have one chance to make a first impression and I want to get it right.

The last thought there has some merit, unless, of course, you’ve had short stories published before. Then you’ve already made your first impression.

I look back on some of my earlier stuff and think what I’m sure many people think - GROAN. I should have done this or that or look at that mistake or that cliché…

It’s all part of the learning process.

I’m sure it’s nice for those people who debut to instant success, but you know what I find myself thinking about? The pressure they’re under. To perform first book out of the gate. The fact that authors don’t get the same learning curve they used to.

You know, you think it would be great to hear people saying your debut is a masterpiece, but then imagine trying to follow it up with something better. How do you top perfection?

I suspect most people here are familiar with a poem, If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. There’s a lot to this.

And now I’m going to say it to myself, and all the infant writers out there like me: If you listen to a lot of negativity you’ll lack optimism. If you believe that you’ll fail, you will.

Just to go supernerd here, there was a great line in Star Trek TNG, from the last episode of the third season, The Best of Both Worlds 1. Captain Picard has been captured by the most deadly enemy to face The Federation yet – the Borg. He’s been assimilated. The Federation is getting its ass kicked and death or assimilation seems imminent. Riker has been left in charge when Guinan delivers the sage advice:

If a man is convinced he’s going to die in the morning he’ll find a way to make it happen.^

Guess what? If you’re set on a course of playing mind games with yourself, persuading yourself you won’t succeed, setting up obstacles to keep you from finishing that manuscript or shopping that manuscript, you are responsible for ensuring you’ll fail.

In extreme odds someone might stumble across a waitress and give her a part in a movie, but there isn’t any way a NY editor is going to trip over your lawn ornaments in Red Deer Alberta and with one look at you be convinced you must be a writer and ask to see your WIP.

You’re only going to get where you’re going if you try. And if you don’t, you’ve got nobody to blame for your failure except the person you see in the mirror every morning.

Just because you’re angry it doesn’t mean you’re right, and just because you’re nervous it doesn’t mean you’re not ready. Emotion doesn’t always reflect reality.

It just means you’re human.

(Okay, so, the manuscript is off and out there and yes, I’m nervous as hell, and asking myself if I’d tweaked everything I should have or if maybe I should have spent more time on this or that… But you know what? I’m happy with it. My agent’s happy with it. One of my best friends - the only other person who’s read it and who is an incredible author - has chimed in. Indulging in self doubt and worry now would be foolish, and really, rather insulting to those who believe in me.)

* Jackie Leven, Classic Northern Diversions, from the album Shining Brother, Shining Sister There’s a line from that song that I’m thinking of using as the book title for the follow-up to WHAT BURNS WITHIN but that’s a subject of discussion for another day. Brilliant album, though. Although Creatures of Light and Darkness remains my favourite… I think.

^ Working from memory, so sue me if I didn’t nail it 100%.

And in the truly pathetic files...
Somebody fell for one of those Nigerian email scams.

13 comments:

Jersey Jack said...

Good luck with the book, Sandra.

Judy said...

I've got my toes crossed for you, Sandra, but I know everything's going to be great. Also, thanks for the pep talk and, if you don't mind, I'm going to link to this blog in mine. I needed that.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Jack and Judy. I don't mind if you link Judy - I'm a real pessimist, and this is something I have to constantly deal with myself about.

JamesO said...

I'm terrible for submitting things I've written - nine novels and counting... But it's not for any great conscious reason. I don't spend hours agonising over whether or not I should send something off.

Mostly I just forget.

But good luck with the MS, Sandra. Hopefully my latest won't be far behind it. If I can just remember where I put it...

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, it took me four tries to get blogger to load comments so I mean it when I say that if you don't submit your novel, I will!

Or I will bribe Stuart to come down and kick your arse.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic is the fact that is only one of the people who have fallen for the Nigerian scam. It's amazing how many have actually believed that they will become wealthy by helping these people.

Really it all ties in with what you were saying, you can't wait for someone to stumble by and notice you, if you want that chance, you have to go looking for it and take the risk that goes with it. norby

Sandra Ruttan said...

You're right Norby. I never really thought of the connection to the rest of it, but when I saw that story I was just shaking my head. Golden opportunities do not often come in the form of an email from a stranger!

Amra Pajalic said...

I just watched a australian current affairs show where a family fell for the UK lottery scam. The sentence I can't get out of my head: "They bought a computer a few months ago and it was the first time they used it." Scary. Now we know why they keep sending those suckers out. They will find someone naive enough to participate. These people sent them over $1.3 million grand. WTF!!!

Congratulations on sending out your MS. Just taking that step is an achievement. I'm sure it will have no problem finding a home.

angie said...

Big congrats on getting the novel completed & to your agent - that's wonderful!

Isn't it amazing how we talk to ourselves? The first time that lesson really came home to me was when I was in art school. I caught myself thinking "this is shit...why did I think I could do this?...blah, blah, negative crap, blah." Who needs enemies when I'm that good at ripping myself to shreds?! I'm much more aware & able to stop that crap now, but it'll still sneak in when I'm not looking.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Amra, geez! Imagine losing all that money. Grab a brain people...

Angie, we're horrid to ourselves. You're dead right that we don't need anyone else to cut us down - we do a good job of it all on our own.

eileen said...

What a great post. I would wish you luck- but you've got something better persistence.

Daniel Hatadi said...

More people fall for those Nigerian scams than is reported. Well, at least one guy I know did.

My fingers are crossed with my toes and my nose for you, Sandra.

JamesO said...

It's a truism that if people didn't fall for the Nigerian scam, then they'd stop doing it. Likewise spam email: if it wasn't effective, then it would slowly drift away and we'd be hassled in a new and exotic way.

So every time you're offered Penile enhancements or cheap Canadian drugs, remember that there are fools out there with more money than sense.