Tag Archives: failure

On overnight success (Surprise! It’s a lot like failure.)

Both of last week’s posts here were about failure, or at least the constant perceived threat of failure that so often makes it hard for us to move forward. I’m going to continue the theme, but on a slightly different note. Our own Emu Empress, Erin MUrphy, once said something along the lines of, “For every success, there is a waiting period that feels like failure.” And in a post on this very blog almost three years ago, she followed that up with, “But it’s NOT! It’s just waiting!”

When she wrote that post back in 2011, I’d only been with the agency for a few months. One year from now, I’ll have three books published. That doesn’t seem like very much waiting, especially to those familiar with the pace of the publishing industry. Many of my writer friends have walked up to me and said something to the effect of, “Wow, you’re on FIRE!” Some say things like, “I guess you’ve been busy lately!” Others ask, “So, what’s your secret?” as if I’m holding out on them. A few say, “Boy, did you get lucky!” never thinking that some authors might be a little bit offended by that. (I never am: Yes, indeed, I have gotten very, very lucky!)

So, in the interests of dispelling myths and keeping things real, I thought it might be helpful to break down my “overnight success:”

  • Early 1970s: I fell in love with reading: books, magazines, encyclopedias, cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, you name it, I read it.
  • Somewhere around 1980: I sent away for the application to the Institute of Children’s Literature, filled it out and was accepted! Sadly, my parents didn’t think I was quite ready for a literary career, since I was still in elementary school.
  • Late 1980s: I wrote lots of angsty teen poetry, got my first word processor, and discovered term papers – what fun!
  • Early 1990s: I minored in technical writing and grammar in college and took honors English courses, even while I went for a “sensible” career in software engineering.
  • 2000: A good friend told me I should stop telling her about all the things I was learning and just write my explanations down for everyone to read. I suspect she might have just been trying to shut me up, but I jumped at the suggestion.
  • 2004: My first article was published by a regional parenting magazine.
  • 2004: I started working on the manuscript that would become both EMMANUEL’S DREAM and BE A CHANGEMAKER (yes, a picture-book biography and a teen how-to guide both evolved from the same project).
  • 2006: I enrolled in the Institute of Children’s Literature course… finally!
  • 2006: My first magazine article for kids was published.
  • 2008: I joined SCBWI.
  • 2009: I wrote MY DOG IS THE BEST for an online workshop with Anastasia Suen.
  • 2011: I signed with my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary.
  • 2012: EMMANUEL’S DREAM sold.
  • 2013: BE A CHANGEMAKER and MY DOG IS THE BEST sold.

You can see that there was an awful lot of waiting that felt like failure in there. Of course, I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing in those spaces between the bullet points, either. I was constantly taking classes, reading, studying, writing, getting feedback, revising, submitting… I have dozens of manuscripts and proposals that will never become books and hundreds of ideas that will never even become manuscripts. I’ve collected what feels like thousands of rejections, and still that number continues to grow!

Each one of those could be seen as failure (and, believe me, some days they sure do feel like it), but I try to look at them more as necessary delays, like with air traffic control… or Frogger. Remember how you had to ride the log until another one came by and then jump at just the right moment? Having just the right wait time will eventually put me on the right track with the right skills and life experience for the right idea for the right editor at the right time (hopefully!). After all, what can we do but keep working, putting our work out there, and hoping, even if that means to perpetually risk failure? It’s the only way I know of to get to success.


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House (January 2015), and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Discipline, Faith, Rejection, rejection and success, Writing and Life

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 taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Writing, Writing and Life

Permission to Fail: Granted

FailStar

This is a red F, in crayon, that I have awarded a gold star. Yay, failure.

A draft of my second book is due in a few days, but it’s not finished.  The reason it’s not finished is that I don’t want to write the end, and the reasons I don’t want to write the end are these:

1. I want to write a satisfying ending, but there can only be a truly satisfying ending when the structure of the plot is sound enough to usher the story to an equally sound conclusion.

1b. Therefore, if I write the ending and it isn’t fully satisfying, I’ll have proof that the plot isn’t fully cooked;

1c. Which means I’ll have to do rewrites.

2. If I write the ending, the draft will be finished.

2b. As soon as the draft is finished, it’s due to my editor.

2c. My editor really likes my first book.  What if I give her the second one, and she thinks it’s a total letdown?  What if, as an author – which is something I’ve worked very hard for a chance to be – I turn out to be a one-book wonder?

There’s only one thing on that list – #1 – that’s actually based in a desire to write well.

All the other reasons are based in fear.  Specifically, the fear of failure.

I’m not unique.  We all fear failure.  And we know that we have to push through that fear if we’re ever going to achieve our goals.  But the human brain has an amazing talent for knowing something and ignoring it at the very same time.  For example, take 1c, above.  I am certain that there will be rewrites.  I have come to expect many rounds of rewrites.  Why am I pretending that I can somehow escape what is inevitable (and important)?

I don’t know.  But I do know that I have to write an ending.  Like, right now.

Today, I gave myself permission to write pure crap.  And by “gave myself permission” what I really mean is that I forced myself to write words even while knowing that they are not my best. I let every hackneyed phrase stay put, I let the gushy mushies take over, I overused adverbs and got spicy with the dialogue tags, I exercised no restraint, and I told rather than showed (gasp and horror, yeah, yeah).  I reminded myself that my editor is a professional who has seen first drafts before and will not damn me for mine.

(I also reminded myself that I still have a couple of days, so if I finish now, I’ll have a tiny window of time to do a little tweaking before I send it in.)

The result of giving myself this permission is that I’m finally closing in on the end of this draft, which is exactly what I need to be doing right now.  What I’m generating does not thrill me yet, but that’s okay. It doesn’t feel okay, but it actually is okay.  It’s even necessary.  If I want to write something good, then I have to write something.

While I’m on a roll, I think I’ll also give myself permission to fail in writing a decent conclusion to this post, because you know what?  I really want to get back to writing my crappy ending.

 

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Deadlines, Writing