I was inspired to write this post today because of Shane’s guest blog called Start:
One of the loudest voices in my head, the real dick of all the voices, likes to tell me that what I’m making won’t be perfect. It’s an impossible standard to live up to, perfection, and is therefore an effective weapon against my own creativity. I’m often tempted to give up before I begin. But I’ve tried to stop doing that. After 41 years, I’ve finally begun to realize that you have to start. You have to begin to make something before you can worry about how it’s going to end up. If you don’t start, you have nothing.
I want to be like the people who keep pushing forward, in spite of the critics, self doubt, and uncomfortable odds. They try new things. They take risks. They eat shit sometimes. They get back up and try other new things. Their successes are widely embraced. Their misfires are lonely. Most of all, their art is inspiring.
If I’ve learned anything in my shaky life as an artist, it’s that you must stop talking and spinning and whining and start making your thing today. Pick up a camera. Pick up an easel. Open your laptop and turn off your Internet connection while you write. Find a starting point. Ignore the voices. Ignore the critics. Reward yourself for having ideas by valuing them enough to believe in them.
Failure does not exist.
A little over a year ago, I experienced a creative explosion, and wrote more short fiction in the span of a few months than ever before or since. It was a whole lot of fun, and some of the stories that I pulled out of my brain, like Hunter and The Monster In My Closet, totally did not suck.
Since then, I’ve struggled to find the time/inspiration/courage/focus/whatever to cultivate a story idea beyond just being an idea. I was about to say that I wasn’t sure why, but I know why: I was afraid of failure. I’d written a couple of short things that didn’t suck, and was paralyzed by the prospect of writing and publishing anything that could or would or did suck. Besides, it is so much easier to derp around on Reddit all day than it is to get out of the Internet and focus on telling a story, right? There’s nothing quite as safe — and ultimately boring — than not taking a risk, creative or otherwise.
While I was on the JoCo cruise, I sat down with my friend John Scalzi and talked about writing for almost two hours. I miss making things up and making them live, and I desperately want to learn how to break out of the short form narrative non-fiction storytelling that’s been most of my writing for the last decade. I wanted to know how to take an idea that I’d turn into 2000 or so words, and instead work it into something that lasts for 10000 or 30000 or even 50000 words. You know, like a novel. For kids.
We talked a lot about the practicalities of writing, like having a schedule, meeting a word count or maximum time every day (like 3000 words or 2 hours, whatever comes first). We talked about breaking up a long piece of storytelling into several short stories, and then writing the connective tissue to put them together into something longer. We talked about the business of publishing, and for whom self-publishing makes sense, and why.
But the thing that got me out of my creative doldrums was John’s advice about failure. It isn’t for me to share with you what John believes were his failures as a writer (if we’re all lucky, he’ll write about it at Whatever), but I’ll share with you what I took away from it.
Sometimes we set out to do something, like write a novel, and we fail at writing that particular novel. But in the process of failing at that novel, we can actually succeed at writing another. For example, years ago I had this idea to write a book called Do You Want Kids With That? about being a stepfather. I would take some stories about my life with Ryan and Nolan, and wrap them in practical advice for stepparents based on my experiences.
I started working on it, and quickly realized that I was experienced as a stepparent, but profoundly unqualified to talk about it to other stepparents. I concluded that it would be irresponsible to write that book without a psychologist co-author, so I abandoned it. But! I had all these great stories about things I’d done with my kids, about how we’d grown together as a family, and I needed to do something with them, so I ended up building The Happiest Days Of Our Lives around them.
So even though I failed to write a book about being a stepparent, I succeeded in writing an entirely different book, about what it means to be a Gen X geek. I’m really proud of that book; so proud, in fact, that I didn’t even think about the failure that helped birth it until I talked with John on the boat.
There are lots of other examples in my recent history: the first cut of the first episode of Tabletop wasn’t good at all, but we scraped away the failed parts and ended up with one hell of a successful show about the joy of gaming. Almost 10 years ago, my attempt to collect everything from my blog at the time and turn it into a book was a failure that produced Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot.
I could go on, but I think you get the point: failing at one thing does not mean you fail at all things and that’s the end of it. Failing at something can often be the beginning of succeeding at another thing.
Since I had this long talk with John on the boat, I realized that I have all the tools I need to write stories of any length, even if the longer stories are outside of my comfort zone (and there’s a whole other post coming about how scary and rewarding it was to get way out of my comfort zone — ultimately expanding it quite a bit — when I performed on the cruise). I know how to write a novella or even a novel, but I’ve been afraid to try it and fail. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that, at any moment, Carrie’s mom will spring out of the closet, covered in knives and shriek at me, “THEY’RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU!!”
But yesterday, I sat down and I plotted out a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long, long time. I sat down, thought about my big idea, and then had an incredibly fun time drilling down into that big idea to find the narrative story and character arcs that exist inside it. And the thing about doing that? It was fun. I wrote out a few mile markers to generally move the story forward, so I know what I’m driving toward, and when I got to the end, I discovered something incredibly awesome that I hadn’t even considered in the months I’ve had this idea bouncing around inside my brain. I typed it into my text document, gasped in delight, and clapped my hands like an excited child … which I guess, in that moment, I was.
Today, I start writing that story, unburdened by the fear of failure because I know that, even if I fail in some way, I’ll succeed at taking the risk, and learn something that’ll be helpful and useful for the next thing, or maybe the thing after that.
I owe John a debt of gratitude, because he helped me get most (maybe even all) of my existential dread and angst under control, so I could stop worrying and learn to love failure.
It feels good to be a capital-W Writer again. I’ve been a tourist for far too long.
86 thoughts on “How I learned to stop worrying, and love failure”
You write some enjoyable stuff, so I’m glad to see you plan to keep going.
I almost wish you had written the stepparent book. I have to ask, when they turn 18, does it get better? Does the harassment and stalking end? When they’re all grown and “sort of” adults, do you really get to see how worth it, all the fighting for them was? I’m not sure a psychologist is needed for such a book, sometimes the rest of us just need to hear about someone else’s ride.
Every experience is different. For us, it got better and it got worse, and then it eventually got better again. Yes, the fighting was and is worth it.
Thank you for that, I know the fight is worth it but it’s nice to hear it gets better 🙂
Keep writing, we all need something more to read..
Word. This same philosophy—that I had failed at a particular novel and not at the idea of novels as a whole—helped me shelve a book that I’m hoping I’ll write later, when I’ve leveled up, and move on to something I think I could write well now. I’m about 35,000 words into it and it seems to be working. (I’ve had to shelve it too, temporarily, to write things for rent money.)
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’m genuinely looking forward to more original stories from you, Wil. Novels, shorts, whatever—bring ’em on. Even if they’re not all gems or precious metals, you’ve got a great rapport with a wonderful audience that’ll help you convert your copper pieces to XP. And I think you’ll be writing a lot more electrum than you fear.
Why am I phrasing everything like this? I don’t know.
So, yeah. Onward.
Congratulations! I’m looking forward to your novel (I liked Hunter and Monster in a Closet a lot!)
Writing a novel is a lot of fun. I had ideas for a novel in my head for years but never got past three pages. Reading about your experiences with Lulu helped me get over this fear and got me to Get Excited and Make Something. I met you at Pax Prime in 2011 and gave you a copy. Now I’ve published the second and working on the third!
It’s never a bad idea to write. You taught me this and I’m glad to see you’re teaching yourself now. 🙂
If you haven’t already, you should pick up a copy or “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland
I have a copy I keep near my desk, and I flip through it from time to time. Gets me through some low times as an artist.
“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit”
“To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity. . . yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work”
Keep pushing on! 🙂
These are really great words to live by. It’s so hard in this generation to actually do anything without fear. Fear of rejection, or that others will simply hate us.
This is one of those posts that I would print out and tape to my bedpost to read every morning when I wake up. It’s really inspiring.
Wil, I look forward to reading your stories, novels, memoirs, or whatever. Because I enjoy your writing, and have found that you are good at telling stories, and getting your readers engaged in them. You know you can do it; after all, improv is nothing more than writing a scene on the spot, right? You know that when you improvise, you run the risk of “failure” and yet the only real failure there is not to try at all. So go for it.
this is the second time, I comment to one of Your posts.
But! (or butt?)
Please start writing again for what ever it takes. I’m a simple guy from germany, but I really enjoyed all of Your books, an bloggings, an this very good thing on game-geekin…
I read Your Burrito-blog years ago and alwas loved all Your wrinting!
So please stop this “selfdoubt”-thing an start – again – writing as You loved to do…. To express Yourself in this way.
I still love tabletop, cause its fun an its very inspiring, but ……. I do love to read things, You wrote and still will….
So please, pretty pretty please, go back to writing 🙂
Mit besten Wünschen
Wil! Right there with you. I’ve been carrying around MY BIG STORY since I was a kid, and it’s grown and developed over the years – I even made notes a couple of times, but didn’t actually write anything real – but on my 30th birthday I decided, dude, you’re not getting younger. Just write the damn thing. My word count goal is modest (only 500 words a day) but it’s what I can squeeze in with a corporate workday, and I get great satisfaction out of putting those words down every day.
I did the same as you – deciding to write it, plotting out mile markers, getting to meet my characters for the first time, rather than avoiding them with my hand shading my face, and, yes, giggling and clapping like a little kid. A couple of times, I’ve gone in with a plan for a scene and my story decides it wants something else – and every time that happens, what the story tells me to do is far better than what I had planned. And that causes the giggling and clapping all over again.
I’m excited to see what your new writing adventure ends up becoming!
I’m glad to hear you’re writing again, and it’s good to put the fear of failure behind you, because success is often built on those failures. I had three failed, incomplete novels before I finished my first. Now my second is approaching publication, and I have two more completed drafts working through my edit queue.
You fail until you succeed. Quitting is the only thing that can stop that from happening.
Now, back to the word mines with you!
Your post has echoed what I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve been having trouble getting down to the business of writing, finding ten thousand trifling reasons to get started in a few minutes, or maybe tomorrow since it’s already late afternoon. Despite the fact that I’ve had a need growing inside me to explore this new world, new story that I’ve found, and despite the fact that I *really* enjoy when I do start playing within it, I hadn’t been able to simply start. Until now.
I recently cut back my morning caffeine/gogo intake, and the difference is astounding. I was a regular energy-drinker. Not the healthiest option for morning buzz, but I’d found one that had no artificial colours/flavours, didn’t taste like medicine, wasn’t *entirely* full of junk, but still had some nice caffeine and all that tauriney goodness. Each morning, I’d have one and it would set me straight for the day. I never drank more than one, I never drank additional coffee/caffeine, just the one little fix, and I’d be set.
And yet, I recently noticed a surprising correlation, on the (rare) days that I’d run out and not have anything to spark my day, I found a tremendously increased capacity for getting off the fiber-optic tit and doing something useful, maybe tackle a project around the house, perhaps trade my Spock-robe for pants and go out into the world, or even simply sit with the stillness in my mind and write my story.
It hasn’t been a hard adjustment, and I still have a morning cup of tea now and again, but now that I look back on it, I wonder how I hadn’t seen it sooner. Pumping yourself full of restless energy is probably the worst thing a writer can do. It can’t be good for anybody who has to achieve goals from a comfortable chair surrounded by distraction.
I recommend everybody who has trouble with procrastination to try a one week experiment: kick the gogo, and get started on whatever it is that you’ve been procrastinating.
If it works, wonderful! If it doesn’t, don’t worry, that shiny metal can full of effervescent energy bubbles, or that stygian mug of steam-pressed beans will be waiting for you, ready to welcome you back as if you’d never left (and will never leave again).
Yes, I agree. Trasitioning from coffee to green tea as my beverage du jour made a huge difference in my productivity at work. I suspect coffee does something to aggravate my inner ADHD.
Oh my God I needed to hear this today. I am forty years old. In my life, I’ve been an attorney, a teacher, and now, a stay-at-home mom. I have been writing my whole life. I have blogged off and on for years. I have published exactly nothing (After all, no one can reject you if you never send them your work.). I paralyze myself with fear of sucking all the time….the Carrie’s-mom voice in my head either telling me that I should bother writing that or telling me that whatever I’ve managed to write isn’t good enough and everyone will think it’s stupid. Thank you for reminding me that, sometimes, I just need to get out of my own way and start writing and see where it takes me.
In which I talk about my own fear of failure — although in this case it is more that people aren’t going to laugh at me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnHeI91HGLo
This is not unlike the philosophy tossed around in the start-up world. I’ve been working in and helping build start-ups for more than a decade and it’s very true. Start-ups often have a high risk factor, especially if you’re putting up your own money, but just like with everything else in life, you can’t go around trying to protect yourself from failure. I used to because I was shy and I cared about what people thought about me. Then in college I managed to pull some amount of courage out of thin air and minored in theater. Holy crap!
But, that combined with my experience in tech and my short stint in biological research showed me how true that sentiment is. You’ve got to look at failure as anything but. “Failure” is just the universe’s way of saying, “maybe you missed something, buddy.” I think if you fail at something, it’s an opportunity to figure out what you did to fail and work around it. It’s one of the things I love about games. You’re given an opportunity to try again and again to figure out and actually learn what the solution is.
In the end, each failure is simply additional XP for life. Just like a good DM will still dish out XP for a failed quest, learning from your mistakes only makes you better and handling them later. And, in the end, the best thing you can do at the start of each project is just say GLHF…cause if you’re not having fun, it isn’t worth trying to fail at it. 🙂
Depression lies. You said this yourself. And it’s a skilled liar. But we always, always have the choice whether or not to believe the lies. These thoughts are no more significant than the clouds passing overhead.
Thanks for this post, Wil. I needed to hear this today, because I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently: the idea that YOU define your own success, not others.
But here’s my question – how do you measure success? Have you ever made something, thought it was awesome, then realized that maybe others didn’t find it as awesome? Was it still a success? That’s what I’m struggling with right now. I’m a crafter, not a writer, but I think some of the process is a bit similar. And after making something, I’ll see another version that is WAY better than mine, and then I feel like a failure. Maybe the process, the journey, was the success. The end product doesn’t matter as much. But it does matter! Things don’t get made in a vacuum.
I’m also more of a crafter. Odds are we’re pretty similar – statistically, most of us are likely to be in the middle bit of a bell-curve! There will always, ALWAYS be others doing what we do (or would like to be doing) and doing it depressingly way better than us. But remember there will equally be a gazillion others who could never do what we do as well as we do, even though many of them try. Ok, so a bunch of fabulously creative types dominate on etsy, but do an ebay search for “handmade” whatevers and you’ll see thousands of examples of tosh that you know full well you could do way way better versions of. Actually, they can be inspiring – I see things and think “why didn’t you do *this* to it” or “that’d be so much better if you just changed such-and-such”.
Point is, there’s definitely a market for us in the middle, as long as we price ourselves right.
I reckon you have interesting pictures in your house, even though they’re not original DaVincis, Monets or Dalis. That you eat really tasty food in places that don’t employ award-winning chefs. That you wear clothes that are kinda cool, even though they’re not designer labels. And that you create some great stuff even though you’re not particularly rich & famous. Yet! 😀
I mean hey – even Wil Wheaton is no Neil Gaiman, but I reckon he’s cool with that… 😉
Thank you for this — I really needed to hear it, both artistically and personally. I’m often derailed by waiting until I have a fully formulated plan to execute, and in most of those cases I find that diving in would have been creatively effective in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Thank you again.
Last week I finished a book that currently weighs in at 56,000 words. This week I finished a book that currently weighs in at 72,000 words. I’ve been writing both at the same time. I have many more somewhere in the process of being written (or edited, or re-written) and many more I’d like to finish (that I’ve either started and stopped working on or just have a concept for). I write quickly and this year I hope to pump out 365,000 words of new fiction (last year I write 267,000 words of new fiction). I say the currently “weigh in at” because those numbers will change.
The fun thing about writing is that you never need to get it right the first time. Once you put that roadblock behind you and realize that you may not even know what the most important piece of your story is until you get to the end is a wonderful thing.
In both the works I recently finished, I had plotted the books. I knew the big reveal at the end. And what I wound up writing is nothing like what I had planned to write. I know I now need to go back and fix spots, add foreshadowing, correct plot holes because of the new ending I hadn’t planned on, and do a lot of cleaning up.
THEN! I get to have other people close to me read it, and re-read it, and make it even better.
It’s a process and once you free yourself to allow that first draft to be a learning experience, you’ll enjoy writing longer works.
Also keep in mind that you have some great friends that I’m sure will give you pointers along the way. You also have a fan base that will enjoy almost anything you decide to put onto the page. I’ve enjoyed your books, I’ve enjoyed your stories, I’m looking forward to enjoying your novels. 🙂
Thank you for the words Wil. I agree wholeheartedly about the fear of failure being a huge problem. Getting past that is a big step in the right direction that is for sure. As for writing longer works an application you should look at is Scrivener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
It was the biggest help after getting over that fear of failure.
Another vote for Scrivener– it’s really a fantastic tool for all sorts of writing, but especially long-form works.
Thank you for sharing that. I think everyone has that fear of they’re all going to laugh at you, fear of failure, but you said so many true things.
I can’t wait to read your new book. Is it done yet? How about now? No? ….. OK. How about… .now?
I found your blog kind of by accident…a question on Twitter about what exactly you might be thinking in that moment hit my feed and it got me thinking too: What is Wil Wheaton thinking?? It’s not often that I ask myself this question, and so I thought I would take a few minutes to explore it. That thought brought me here and as I read I wondered if you were somehow inside my head, writing about what you saw there. My mouth literally dropped open in shock as I discovered that you are currently living my journey…or I’m living yours…or…chicken/egg…
I have always wanted to be a writer but had never managed to finish anything I started…classic tale really that I’m sure many people can relate to in a variety of industries and life situations. You know what I mean, the idea is good but the dedication to bring it to completion is lacking. Work, family, friends, life, all get in the way of allowing us to achieve our goals, if we’ve even managed to set them in the first place.
However, a recent teacher’s strike halting leadership of all extracurricular activities in my school board has left me with more than a little free time. It was in my musings over these last few months that I realized that the only thing really stopping me from even starting this journey was me. I was reminded of the message I send to my students on a daily basis: Risk, Learn, Grow. Inciteful motto yes and truly valuable words to live by. But I wasn’t living them, just expecting others around me to do so. Bad role model.
With these words in mind, I started my journey, as you have now done. I haven’t had the experienced resource, that you clearly do, to guide me, but I do have enough positive and supportive people around me that I know I’m just a call, text or tweet away from the reminder to keep going. Surprisingly though, I haven’t actually really needed it. I’ve somehow managed to truly embody that motto that I have so long professed to others. I have taken a few simple ideas and turned them into several works that I’m actually fairly proud of. I have become my own inspiration (again, chicken/egg).
And in my most recent work, one chapter turned into three, which turned into 10 which turned into a now 20 chapter, 50,000+ word, still unfinished story that has taken on a life of it’s own. It’s been amazing to me how the story has developed and progressed, slowly, but all too fast at the same time. I’ve gotten very good reviews and feedback from those who have read the pages, which propel me to keep writing, getting more positive reviews, leading to more writing. Deliciously viscious cycle.
I recently allowed myself a weekend writing retreat, extracating myself from all the usual sights and sounds and people that I am surrounded by on a daily basis, and it was the best, most amazing thing I could have done. Five chapters of my current story later, I hit upon an idea that I believe is strong enough to actually proceed to publishing. Or not, depending on how it all goes. But most importantly, I have realized it doesn’t actually matter because it’s the action of taking the risk that is more valuable than 10 best selling novels (though I’m really not opposed to that either).
I wish you good luck in your journey and hope that you enjoy the risks you are taking. And I offer a small piece of advice to you that I have given to so many students over the years: When things get the most challenging in life, take some time to sit back and enjoy that challenge, for it is in these times that we learn and grow the most.
What’s the saying . . . ? “Aim for the stars because even if you miss you’ll end up amongst the stars.”
Good luck, Wil.
I needed this today.
A few months ago I published my first book – after loving to write all my life, I finally pushed past all the “I’m going to suck” fears and did it.
And people were kind and awesome and it was kinds of love and book sales and so on.
And then this morning I woke up to bad review. Not just a bad review, but a hateful one that attacked not only my work but my character.
I made jokes with friends about how the bad review meant I made it – I’m cool enough now to have a hater. But the reality is it made me want to crawl back into my little cave of self-doubt, and never create anything ever again. (Ah, the bliss of being an INFP…)
But your post reminded me that one vocal person hating my work doesn’t mean I failed.
I had fun creating the story. Others have had fun reading it. And I learned so much from the process that I can pour into the next project.
I’m so glad to hear you are in that exciting place of creation now – wish you all the best with the story you are working on – and hope we all get to see the results! 🙂
“I had fun creating the story. Others have had fun reading it. And I learned so much from the process that I can pour into the next project.”
This is what matters. Someone who can’t review a work of art without attacking the artist isn’t worth a moment of your time.
I live across the river from Memphis TN. My dad remembers when Elvis was an up and coming singer. People were talking about getting him to come over here and sing at an event (before he was super famous). My dad say the response was “We don’t want that no talent so-and-so coming over here.”
Eddie Bond interviewed Elvis in the early days for a singing job, and he famously told Elvis to stick with truck driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer.”
Bottom line, no matter how good your are, or how many people love your work, there will always be people who don’t like what you do. Don’t let a vocal few chart your future for you.
Thank you both, Wil and Mark!
My book went on a free promo shortly after this post. And now it’s #11 on Amazon’s Top 100.
Mathematically, I’ll have to accept that may bring out more of the mean. Which is scary. So, thanks for being the kind and encouraging types. 🙂
I got your book earlier today, and it’s in my queue!
…And then, I collapsed.
Every post I read from you lately leaves me so full of joy and hopefulness. You inspire me with the knowledge that my projects will work out, somehow. Thanks so much.
I’ve been pushing myself in a similar fashion and I’m surrounded by those that won’t do something unless its perfect. Drives me nuts. You can’t be perfect on your first go at anything, you need practice and experience. I have dozens of ideas for episodic and short videos and I share the ideas with friends and am told things like if it’s not perfect why bother. Like if I can’t direct or create something on the scale and quality of Starwars, Star Trek, or Avatar there’s no point in starting.
Regardless I’m starting a project just to build experience and get that practice. I’m inspired by you, Felicia Day, and others on youtube. So thank you.
My 2 cents worth?
Write. You have the perfect test bed right here, put some out and see how people respond. Keep in mind that some people are dicks no matter what, so you will get some noise, but just watch the noise to signal ratio and you will get a good idea of how the piece will be received.
I have read Sunken Treasure, The Day After, Memories of the Future Vol1 (STILL waiting for Vol 2, can we preorder yet?), and I have the audiobooks of Just a Geek and Dancing Barefoot. I have said it before, and I will say it again. You reading your books is amazing. I have read Monster in My Closet and Hunter (and I donated). I enjoyed all of them, and I think every one was worth every penny paid. As a matter of fact, I ordered The Day After in printed form (I just like the feel of paper) but I bought the PDF version also because I could not wait for the printed version to get to me. I still maintain that you need to expand on some of those shorts if you get the chance.
To change up a famous line.
gonna bea great writer someday, GordieWil.
Dragon Magazine rejected me and it hurt. The following is lengthy, so for those who are apt to call “TL;DR”, please feel free to move on.
Let me start by saying that I remember wanting to write, going back as far as the 4th grade. I had an amazing teacher encourage me with nothing more complicated than a sharpened No. 2 pencil and a small notebook. Sadly, that was the only encouragement I ever got, except for my own personal impetus that forced me to keep trying.
Years later, through high school and college, I continued to write and at the tender age of 20 I finally found the courage to attempt to publish a short story, a rather lengthy piece on the power of love and the evils of deception submitted to the aforementioned Dragon Magazine.
Did I mention they promptly rejected it? This was the early 90s, so I got a nice letter to that effect (I can imagine an e-mail or perhaps nothing at all would suffice these days), but a rejection is still a rejection, right? That simple rejection torpedoed my young and obviously naive dreams of being a successful writer and pushed me into my second love: technology.
And I kinda failed at that too.
So, here I am, 43 years old and working for a major retailer making slightly above minimum wage and wondering, oddly enough, if it’s worth trying to continue to better myself. Oh, I can build a new PC from parts, field-strip an existing one and rebuild it or troubleshoot a cantankerous unit — all, practically with my eyes closed, but for some reason I still can’t find work in my field. On the other hand, my writing skills have atrophied and since writing is so often not a sustainable career, I wonder if that avenue is also closed to me.
Wil, I don’t mean to take away from your points, but as someone who has suffered from depression himself, can you give me any advice on what direction I should take (besides to the nearest therapist)?
Do you mind getting advice from a fellow loser? 😉
I could have written your post. You are a year younger, and while you went into technology, I went into social work. But it’s the same story.
Here’s what I’m going to do:
-Stop drinking during the week. I’m no raging alcoholic, but I absolutely spend too much time drinking beer and watching TV or playing WoW.
-Set a schedule for yourself. Write down your ideas every day, no matter how dumb, small or unpopular you think they are, write them down.
-Catagorize your ideas into folders: “Story Ideas”, “Character arcs”, ‘funny anecdotes’ etc.
-Start a blog. Take those ideas, and start posting some stories! Get some feedback.
-Reach out to fellow writers. (Just like you did.)
Rusty skills can be polished. Rusty lives can be lubricated.
You probably won’t get this but you can’t imagine how much I hate you and John Scalzi for having such cool friends. If I put all my friends coolness into a single person that person would still not be half as cool as either you or Scalzi! When I’m the coolest person I know you know I don’t have any cool friends cuz I ain’t near cool.
You are one lucky bastard & so is Scalzi. The only redeeming thing is you both are well aware of, and thankful for, it.
Wow. I’ve been reading you for awhile (sorry for the late-i-tude, but avidly since you showed up the first time on BBT) but this is the first time I’ve commented, and I never comment anywhere because I’m a little afraid of the nothing-dies-on-the-internet issue (seriously, I can google my cringe-inducing first email address and come up with some jokes I sent to a jokes newsgroup in the mid 90s) but this post really REALLY got to me.
I can’t tell you how much what you’ve said here feels like you’re inside my own head telling me how I feel, but hopefully you already know and the dozens of comments ahead of mine have made this point much more articulately. I’m saving it, and I’ll probably share it at some point because I know you want shares, but I really don’t want to share it because it’s almost too intimate for my facebook/twitter/G+ “friends” to know.
The pithy quote that gets me through fears of failure is thus:
“I ain’t so afraid of losing something that I ain’t gonna try to have it.”
I really needed these words today. Thank you.
I think this is great – keep writing! I actually just bought the last copy of Dancing Barefoot at the Beaverton Powell’s last weekend. Didn’t realize it was signed by you until we got home, so total bonus. Since you’re coming to Portland soon, maybe you could bring some more of your books for The Mighty Powell’s.
Might I recommend NaNoWriMo ? It’s always amazes me how a simple line & bar graph, and a voluntary collective goal can get me to write more words in one month than any other time of year. Or, if you just can’t wait until November, there’s always Camp NaNoWriMo.
(Please delete my previous comment. Tags went skewy)
It makes me incredibly happy to read this, and not only because I love your writing. This concept is something that I think we all need to embrace. We need to embrace our failures as part of what has shaped who we are.
I’m at the happiest most fulfilled moment I have yet to have in life and I owe it to my failures. I mean sure I needed success along the way too but if certain projects or choices in my past had not failed I would not be where I am now. What, if not failure, can we use to measure our success?
Oh yeah and fear is the mind killer, it’s the Bene Gesserit way.
That’s it. I’m doing it. I’m submitting that short story I wrote a few years ago somewhere. I’m doing it for real this time. I sent it in to a contest a while back and made the final cut, but didn’t win. Seems to me with a few tweaks it might do better this time, right? Thanks for the kick in the butt, Will. As I said on the guest blog on this subject, it’s time to kick the troll of self-doubt in the face.
How interesting the same little devil peeps up here too from time to time.
However I found that if I have to swim to prevent me from drowing that I can swim like Michael Phelps but before that I always seem to fear jumping from the high board.
And also my dad always said and raised of with the notion: “It’s better to say: ‘well that didn’t work than to say, that won’t work!'” — which is ironic for a guy who worked for the same company for 30 years.
This makes me smiley.
Also: you know that, via your blog, you are to many of us what Scalzi was to you on the boat, right? 🙂
I’ve been putting off starting work on my novel, but thanks to this post, it’s now got a basic plan, characters and a universe for them to play in. I know the major conflict that starts the plot rolling. Today, I defeat the blank page of self-doubt.
Apologies for commenting off topic, but I can’t comment on the original post. I am so pleased, after literally months of wondering about whether you have an innie or outie (ever since the last watching of Stand By Me) to have finally googled an answer.
In 2003 you commented on the old TypePad blog: “my belly button lint is for one thing, and one thing only: late night snacking.” Seems pretty conclusive.
Okay, now that I write that out loud it kind of comes across as a bit stalkerish…
Thanks for this. I’ve had a novel published and written several unpublished, but I’ve been paralyzed for the past few years. Plenty of ideas have come and gone — but sitting down, plotting the tale and actually doing it have somehow frozen me at the idea stage. Fear of failure, fear of futility, and the long road of finding an agent have walled me in. I’m hoping your post will break me free of this because, once I get going, I really love writing.
Wonderful! This reminds me of advice a crafty friend gave me once. She’d tried to turn me on to knitting, and I hated it (too slow!) and I told her I thought I wanted to try out sewing. She said, “Oh! Well, sewing is 90% nerve, and you’ve got plenty of that!”
Why is it 90% nerve? Because you have the potential for a LOT of things to go wrong. But the beauty part is, nearly all of it can be reversed: rip out a seam, replace a needle, zig where you should’ve zagged, sew two sides of a shirt together. I’ve done all that, and more, but it’s always something I can undo.
When it comes to writing: same thing. 90% nerve. And if you don’t like something, there’s always the digital age’s version of “Abort! Abort!”: Ctrl-Z.
I can definitely relate. When we pulled the trigger and uploaded our book to amazon.com I didn’t think anyone would buy it. If they did buy it, I didn’t think anyone would like it. Turns out I was wrong. There are actually people we don’t know writing good reviews.
Of course, now I’ve got the same feelings as we start the second book. What if it sucks? What if the people who liked the first book hate the second? What if we’re one hit wonders? But, we press on and we write.
Failure = Opportunity to improve and learn. I don’t subscribe to the standard synonyms given by thesauri.
That lesson was learned when writing my master’s thesis in communication, where I stopped writing for a while because I knew that my advisor would rip my text to shreds. When I realized that these shreds were the fertilizer for much-improved versions of the submitted text I started writing again, and the pace picked up with a vengeance.
In the end, I was even looking forward to the comments on my first drafts because it gave me a sense of direction for improvement.
Songwriting works the same way. I often set off trying to write a song about X and get most of the way through writing it but then find one cool part of that song that somehow really wants to break out and be something else, resulting in a second draft that is a completely different take or even is on a completely different subject. And the first draft is just thrown away – it served its purpose. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Or the early stages of a moon rocket that get jettisoned to give the capsule additional lift.
I, for one, am glad you “failed” at the stepparent book and turned it into The Happiest Days Of Our Lives. It’s one of my favourites.
Stories from it come to mind constantly. My son & I were playing with my old Star Wars figures last night and I kept thinking if he pulled out his Jar Jar figure and mixed it in with my original ones, I was going to hear that needle scratching across the record from Blue LIght Special.
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