Fail Up

Not a single one of you reading this wants to fail at the writing game.  I don’t either.

But statistics are against us.  After all, as the famous demotivational poster points out: it could be that the purpose of our lives is only to serve as warnings to others.

So I was blown away by this recent article about why some authors never succeed.  I tell ya, I wish I could report that there was much here I already knew, but my impression was exactly the opposite: there is a lot here I have barely given thought to or am only now beginning to wrap my head around.

A few quick thoughts after reading this article:

  • Learning about the industry is certainly key–but there is a lot to know.  Make sure you set time aside to do your homework.
  • Accepting feedback is critical, but equally important is finding good sources of feedback.  Not doing so can be a dealbreaker.  Classes and forums can only go so far–get out there and find other writers that are at your experience level and that share your interests who you can exchange work with.
  • I think right along with measuring success in book sales, measuring success in blog posts (for us greener writers who have not been published yet) can be equally misleading.  If the fiction isn’t getting done but your blog is rocking, you may need to take a closer look at your priorities.

And I think the most important lesson is understanding that you are going to fail–that sooner or later you’ll try and not succeed–but learning from your failures and pressing on.  “Fail up,” as the author notes. 

So I ask you: how do you measure short and long-term success?  What are the measuring sticks you use to judge daily, monthly, and yearly progress?  What’s your process when things don’t go as planned?

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  1. Postman said:

    I could tell you, but I've got to get off the dang Internet and go write.

    Well, I have a moment or two to spare. Success in the short term means reaching goals. Whether it's writing every day (no matter how much); getting the novel done within a few months; getting revised and finalized within the year. Long-term success, to me, means getting published. Maybe I'm approaching this thing too simplistically (I'll readily admit to not doing my industry homework…yet), but that's how I'm going about it.

    When things don't go as planned…I usually let them slide until they're FUBAR, rail at myself, bang my head on my desk, and then throw myself back into the work to make up for lost time.

    My middle name is "damage control." That's what my Dad always says. Good thing I now know how to fail up. Good advice, sir. Thanks for posting.

    April 28, 2010
  2. Lisa K. said:

    You bring up some interesting points…and I love the idea of failing up. For me, I measure success as forward motion. If I'm writing every day, polishing my work, learning new things about the craft, submitting regularly, I count those as successes. I look at every rejection I receive as an affirmation that I'm actually doing something to reach success.

    I try to look at everything as a process to move me in the right direction. And to be able to look back at the last few years and see an actual progression, makes me hope for ultimate success.

    April 28, 2010
  3. Claire Dawn said:

    You know what I did today? I wrote a mockup query for Query Shark. Bare in mind, I don't have a complete query for any of my actual MSs. lol.

    Oh, and to carry on the blog thing, measuring the success of your blog, by the comments.

    April 28, 2010
  4. From Sam Beckett:

    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

    One of my all-time favorite quotes!

    – Eric

    April 28, 2010
  5. Emily Cross said:

    excellent article and your thoughts are dead on. Definitely in regards to internet you have to have priorities (says she with a gazzilion blogs lol).

    Thanks for this, it's good to see a fresh perspective :)

    April 28, 2010
  6. Liza said:

    There's a lot to ponder here…

    April 28, 2010
  7. Hello, I finally made it over to your blog from, hmmm, somewhere…Postman, Jane? No matter. Great post, thank you. And thank you for sharing the Huffpo article, seems I have a lot of work to do! I read a few of your other posts, too, and I really like what you're doing here. And your template/format. And that you shared how you went about it. I'll be back. How's Sicily? Are you guys there yet?

    April 29, 2010
  8. Donna Hole said:

    Mmm; this was an excellent feast of info. I book marked that article.

    My goals are simplistic. When I first started writing I had a lot of time (jobless) to devote to the endeavor. When I became employed, I set a goal for myself of 3 hours a weeknight for writing, six on Sat and Sun. Over time, as the day job got more demanding I found myself frustrated by the missed nightly goals.

    After a couple of false starts in the Agent/publishing hunt (querying too soon and "settling"), I decided I needed to learn a lot more about the industry before submitting. This led to extensive revisions.

    At least I was writing again; but not as much.

    I guess my long term goals are the same, but I have to be happy with whatever time I spend on writing/ querying. But I feel a deep sense of accomplishment when I've gotten honest feedback, or when I've beta read and the authors value my critiques, or when someone says they liked my blog post.

    My process when things don't go as planned is to take few days to let the dust (emotions) settle, and get back into it. I've been very blessed with constructive crit partners, and I've learned as much from giving feedback as I have from receiving it.

    This was an informative, helpful article for me. Thanks JP.


    April 29, 2010
  9. Lola Sharp said:

    Awesome link, JP! Thanks for sharing.

    April 29, 2010
  10. Crimey said:

    Since writing is a slow process, there's ton of little goals I set for myself to get through another draft. In the short term, I measure success as getting another draft done and gauging the quality of the writing and story against older drafts and/or novels. Ultimately I'm in it (like most) to be published, so a measurable long-term success would be to see my books in stores/e-stores.

    April 29, 2010
  11. Christine H said:

    I have decided to ignore most of the stuff in that article and just write the d**n book. Because reading all that stuff makes me curl up into a little fetal ball.

    So after three years of bipolar-type emotional swings between thinking my story is great and thinking I'm a hopeless failure who just hasn't failed yet, I've decided to write the book first and continue learning step by step as I go.

    The thing about that kind of article is that it's usually written by someone in publishing… someone on the OTHER end of the process who has no idea what it takes to just get the story out of one's head in the first place. They look at the product and how to fit it on the shelf. But you can't even do that until you have a product in the first place, and that doesn't happen until some idiot has the courage to write a book.

    So just write the book, people. Just do it!

    April 30, 2010
  12. Christine H said:

    Thanks! As Alice In Wonderland said, "I give myself very good advice, but I seldom follow it." :oD

    April 30, 2010
  13. I loved that article, good sir. I've already had more'n a few failures, but you'd better believe I intend to keep improving my craft and my marketing skills. I guess I should also work on not resenting people who offer honest feedback on my work. That might help too….

    (I don't really resent my critique partners, fyi. Most days….)

    April 30, 2010
  14. Jon Paul said:

    Gang–my heartfelt apologies for the delay in me getting back to these comments. Unfortunately, this thing called real life sometimes gets in the way. But a good discussion here, so without further ado:

    Postie–Sounds like you and I have fairly similar approaches (big surprise, I know!). When I screw something up, same as you, I have to stand back and take a gander and say "What do I do now?" Happily, I generally figure something out.

    Lisa–I couldn't agree with you more. Success isn't always the one big thing; sometimes it's many little things that can be easy to miss if we're not looking.

    Claire–Yeah, I do like my comments. I guess it makes me feel like there's a discussion going on. But of course, it's not a good measure of writing success. I read a ton of great blogs that don't get many comments, which says to me there isn't necessarily a connection between the quality of the writing and the number of folks who say something. It could be that's only my view, though.

    Eric–I love that quote, plus Beckett is one of my favs too.

    Emily–Thanks. Not just a gazillion blogs. A gazillion GOOD blogs. LOL!

    Liza–It got me thinking too…

    Rebel–Thanks so much! And thanks for following!

    Donna–I bet! You've gotta feel good because of the ground you've covered. My issue is that I'm still so new at this game, I don't really feel like I have much under my belt as of yet. Obviously, that's the reason to keep working. :)

    Lola–Thanks darlin!

    Crimey–Sounds similar to my approach as well. My Battle Plan series (Part Six is missing in action, I know–but soon. Soon!) is based on just such an approach.

    Christine–I concur, and it sounds like you have a good handle on what you need to do. I think your comment points to the fact that there are a thousand different approaches out there–all of which work for the people using them. Check out Roni's link on my Link Love today about Pantsers and Plotters. Some good info that bears on this conversation there.

    Simon–I'm with ya, my man. That crit is a hard pill to swallow, especially when they're talking about our own flesh and blood characters. But it's all for the good.

    Thank you all for taking the time to stop by and comment. I truly appreciate it. If I don't "see" you again, have a great week!

    May 2, 2010

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