Failure = OK, Quitting = Death Knell

The title is as much a reminder to myself as to others struggling through their manuscripts right now. I discussed the idea over coffee with my friend the other night and also received another admonishment from Chuck Wendig.

It’s OK to fail. It’s NOT OK to quit.

Afte working many hours at the day job, not to mention my wife’s birthday yesterday and Thanksgiving prep, I’ve been a bit down in the dumps about my sudden decline in output. I’ve totaled ~400 words in the past three days.

I can safely say that this novel is going to fail to live up to my expectations. That thought began to form after about the first 5000 words and I’m strangely okay with it. I accept that this bit of writing I’ve done will barely resemble anything we think of as a novel. It’s just a haphazard mess of scenes that loosely tie together with a timeline that’s all out of whack, characters that lack any depth and a dearth of pertinent conflict. It doesn’t know when it wants to be historically accurate and when it wants to take liberties.

For me, the key is to turn this whole exercise into a lesson. And to do that, I need to finish. When I type the last word of what I declare to be The End, I need to ask myself  one question:

“Why did this fail to be a novel?”

How I answer that will direct my focus for the next attempt. In fact, I’m pretty sure I just provided a few of those answers a couple paragraphs ago. But I will take it upon myself to make sure I am actively addressing those issues in the next novel.

In the meantime, one brick at a time.

As I said to my good friend Oliver yesterday, I just need to finish my rough draft. If that happens in December, so be it. But I need to finish. You do too. We owe it to ourselves. We can’t improve if we don’t practice.

-Phillip

14 thoughts on “Failure = OK, Quitting = Death Knell

  1. Your last line is perfect.

    It’s always a challenge to explain the worth of practicing writing, because it’s a fundamental life skill, the basics of which almost anyone can do. Because of that, writing seems easy, like it’s some natural extension of something we learn as kids and should just innately know by the time we’re adults.

    I meet some writers who expect to be brilliant without practicing. Would you expect to be an NFL star if you’d only tossed the football with your friends in your backyard a couple times? Would you expect to play with the London Symphony Orchestra just because you know how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on your cheap-o violin?

    Writing isn’t different or special. It’s like any skill: the 10,000 hour rule holds. Until then, work hard and finish your projects. Finishing suddenly makes you more successful than 90% of other people trying and quitting, even if you never do anything with the “finished” product.

  2. Novels are never gold when first written; only after brutal polishing do they become worthwhile. So get out that rough draft, assess the needed improvements and rewrite until perfection.

  3. Don’t sweat it Phillip. I’ve failed on two different starts on follow-up novels to “Sold Out” and “Little Man and the Dixon County War.”

    I was honestly a bit scared then, and wondering if I just got lucky on the first two, BUT, I’ve started a third attempt with a different angle and it’s going gangbusters.

    So, shake it off, like you say, and keep pushing.

  4. My first “completed” novel was absolutely terrible – I knew it wasn’t going to work out before I’d gotten halfway done, but I finished it anyways and now it lives in a forgotten corner of my usb drive. Still, I’m so glad I finished it because it helped me the next time I tried to write a novel. I spent several years on that one, polishing and editing, before I decided that it, too, wasn’t working. It’s hanging out with the first novel in my usb of failed books. Now I’m working on something I really like, and it’s definitely thanks to those first failed attempts. So good luck! Hope you learn a lot from this novel!

  5. I would think that many writers have left a trail of unfinished or ‘stinker’ novels in their wake. I have an unfinished attempt at a sci-fi novel (43,000 words only) and a high fantasy story that I was determined to finish even though I knew it wasn’t ‘novel-shaped’. Perhaps one day I will revisit them and see if there is any hope, but these failed novels were my learning experience…my ‘how not to’ works.
    Failed novels are like childhood Second Place trophies. Treasure them, but know that you can do better.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s