How to Fail for Real

Gladys on my mantelpiece. In stores in two weeks!

ALL FOUR STARS on my mantelpiece. It’s been a long journey!

Megan’s post on Monday (“Permission to Fail: Granted”) struck a real chord with me. I’ve definitely had many days when the words I was putting on the page didn’t begin to live up to the pristine version of the story in my head. Days when a shiny new idea, as yet unsullied by my pedestrian writing skills, sang its siren song and tried to tempt me away from my mess of a work-in-progress.

It took me a very long time to learn how to ignore those songs. How long? Well, let me tell you a story.

When I was in college, an alum who had graduated 10 years earlier came to my department to read from his first published novel. Not only had this author been a Creative Writing major, like me, but he’d graduated number one in his class. And while I was excited to meet a published alum, I have to admit that I was also a little bit appalled. Here was someone who was clearly smart, studious, and well-trained. How on earth had it taken him a full decade after graduation to write one book?

After all, I was just a junior, but I had already started working on my first novel. Well, thinking about it—thinking about what a good idea it was, and how brilliant it was going to be once I wrote it. Surely, it would be published by the time I was 22, or 23 at the latest.

Can you see where this story is going? 🙂

I never finished that novel—barely started it, really. Hamstrung by my own perfectionism, I found first-drafting to be completely torturous. When I decided to stop writing it, my feelings were simultaneous ones of utter relief and crushing disappointment. I had wanted to be a novelist since the fourth grade; I had tried to do it; and I had failed.

Years went by before I got brave enough to try again. This time, I was going to write a novel for children. That would be easier, I convinced myself. (Kids’ novels were shorter, at least.)

I worked on that “short” novel for five years. There were times when I let myself get distracted and put it down for months. But I was determined to finish, and I’m still not sure any part of this entire publication process has felt as good to me as writing the words “The End” did on that last page of the first draft.The End

When All Four Stars is published, two weeks from today, I’ll be a lucky 13 years out of college. Pretty pathetic in the eyes of my 19-year-old self…but heroic in the eyes of 22-year-old me, who thought she had failed at being a novelist forever.

It took me more than a decade to learn this, but now I know: The only sure way to fail is to be so afraid of failing that you stop trying.


Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.


Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Writing, Writing and Life

17 responses to “How to Fail for Real

  1. “The only sure way to fail is to be so afraid of failing that you stop trying.” The end.


  2. Tara – After reading your post, I read the first few pages of your novel ALL FOUR STARS on Amazon. IT IS HILARIOUS! Wonderful writing! Congratulations. It is on my “must read” list for July.


  3. “How on earth had it taken him a full decade after graduation to write one book?” Ha hahahaha. This is honest and wonderful. I could write a post in reply to this post, and we could just ping-pong forever, because this gets me right where I live. It took me over a decade, too. One of the most illuminating things about getting a book deal has been meeting so many authors and finding out how similar many of our psychological journeys have been – I used to think I was so alone in this. Also – your last post as an unpublished author! Momentous. Congratulations, Tara!


    • Thanks for kicking off a discussion of this topic, Megan! I’d been wanting to share this part of my journey for a while, but was never sure how to do it.

      And your shift to published author is coming sooner than you think! 🙂


  4. Given the timeline I’m on it will be a good 11 or 12 years out of college by the time I get published. So I guess I’m not doing so bad.


  5. Tara,

    So thoughtful. So honest. So relatable. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait for your book birthday!



  6. “I’m still not sure any part of this entire publication process has felt as good to me as writing the words ‘The End’ did on that last page of the first draft.”


    Love this post, Tara! It made me sad and then happy.

    -Adi (Novel One — 13 years out from college)


  7. Love, love, love! So well said, Tara, and true for so many things in life beyond writing, too. Funny enough, I’m working on my own version of the same post for Monday. Misery loves company, right? 😉


  8. Tara, I’m soooo happy that you have determination and stayed with your goal to write a novel because ALL FOUR STARS just makes me happy every time I think about the story and every time I look at the cover. Writing is HARD!!! We don’t just cuddle up in a comfy chair in a cabin for a weekend and longhand out a masterpiece! The movies make it look so glamorous and easy. I repeat…writing is HARD! I’m so excited for your launch and for ALL FOUR STARS to hit the shelves 🙂


  9. Lindsey Lane

    Tara, I am drafting the next book and I so need to hear these words of wisdom. Thank you.


  10. Parker Peevyhouse

    My college creative writing professor told me he thought I’d be writing great stuff ten years out. I was so horrified. I even told him he was totally wrong, that there was no way I needed that long to get published. Yeah, I guess he was right.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds like you’ve been working hard for this!


    • You know, I bet I got a similar comment at some point and just totally blocked it out–that’s how absurd I surely thought it was. 🙂

      I’m pretty sure that whether we’re one, ten, or forty years out of school, we’ve all got one thing in common–we’ve all worked pretty hard to reach this point.


  11. Amen sister and congratulations! My 22-year-old self + my 38-year-old-self are THRILLED for you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.