Failure: the greatest story of all


For an aspiring writer, there are few sweeter, more reassuring things than learning about how the authors you admire have struggled.

When I discovered that the Indian-American writer Akhil Sharma spent twelve agonising years writing his exquisite novel Family Life, I was delighted.

And even though I’ve never read her, I was perversely pleased to hear that it took Booker prizewinner Arundhati Roy 20 years to write her latest book.

On the other hand, when Caitlin Moran told Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs that she published her first novel at 16 and doesn’t ever run out of things to say, I was furious.

My novel is 16,043 words long so far. It’s rubbish.

I spent about 10 weeks writing the opening page.

I’ll probably scrap it for something I write in a 10-minute burst of inspiration.

notebook

Failed word-count goals recorded in my little green notebook

In January I set myself monthly word-count goals, all of which I failed to meet.

I wrote a plot outline. It didn’t work.

In March, I had a few unexpected days off work. I wrote a couple of thousand words. All of them are thanks to Lisa Cron, who wrote a very helpful book called Story Geniuswhich I stumbled upon online.

Her approach uses neuroscience to describe what a story is and how to lure readers inside your characters’ minds.

It was exhilarating to re-evaluate what stories actually do. I was filled with a fresh sense of purpose.

The wave of enthusiasm did not last long. I worked a lot in April. A mixture of early and late shifts, along with a host of out-of-work commitments, meant I didn’t even have the time to try – and fail – to write.

It made me feel restless and discontented.

I finally managed to get back to it this past weekend. I scraped together a few hundred words.

I’m not allowing myself to re-read them until I write some more.

For whatever reason, writing a novel is a desire that eats away at me and punishes me when I fail to submit to it.

I am under no illusion as to how painfully slim the odds are but perhaps, someday someone else will come across this post and smile with resolve as they return to their own blank page.

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15 thoughts on “Failure: the greatest story of all

  1. Good post, wise words! I found much peace once I accepted that I will be rejected, and I will fail. It’s part of the process of improving. The trick is to learn from the many failures we all endure, and do it all again, but better. I’ve had near 100 rejections to go along with the few stories I’ve sold, and half a dozen novels that I never finished for the one I finally did. Belief in yourself and knowledge that you’ll keep writing because you love it–whether you succeed or not–that’s what’s important! Keep it up! 🙂

  2. Hi Kate
    Don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s a lot of social pressure out there to write but a lot of people don’t actually question WHY they want to write. A lot of that is because authors are held in high esteem in modern western society and everyone aspires to the associated respect of producing a novel of great intellectual merit.

    Unfortunately, much of that is false aspiration imposed by vested interests (usually publishers and publishing industry marketers who’s income depends on a constant, unrestricted flow of people who are desperate to be authors). Having published several books over the last few years, I approach writing with a much less ‘rose-tinted’ pragmatism. If you have something to write, it’ll come when it’s ready, particularly if the predominant target audience is yourself. Afterwards, you can adapt for a larger audience if you want.

    I wish you the best..

    • Hi Brian, Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment! I think you’re entirely right about the kinds pressures that stifle writing. I think the best chance for any of us is to write the book we want to read.. and that may not be the high-brow intellectual titles we wish they were! Congratulations on your publications! Looking forward to checking your work out and thanks again for you encouragement!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kate 🙂 I could identify with it. Was writing blog posts related to marketing stuff a while ago. Did 6 in total and averaged about 1000 words each. I took ages to produce those. About 8 hours plus and I had to publish one every week! There were times I didn’t feel like writing and times when the flow came easier (more challenging than writing poetry!). Usually I take pauses in between and I spread it typically over three days. In between I research and read/collect other related (or non related)content for some inspiration. The step back and renewing my inspiration helps to generate new ideas for further content. Hope this helps 🙂 awaiting patiently for your novel xx

    • Hey Clarice! So nice to hear from you. I can imagine that writing posts about marketing would be very challenging, especially such long ones! Well done for getting them done though! Can I read them somewhere? I bet you’re one of the only people that find writing poetry easier 🙂 You’re a natural visionary! I so appreciate your encouragement, thank you xxx

  4. Kate, not having any experience in the field, I can only offer my advice as a “typical” audience. You have something to tell the world, and the skills with which to accomplish this. Don’t ever forget, the vast majority of people ( your potential readers!) will lead their mediocre lives, living vicariously through the words of the more adventurous and enlightened types, like you! What may seem pedestrian to you, may be of great interest to many others! Take this advice from a former “armchair traveler”. I write this from a little bar in Tokyo🙂

    • Hi Robert! Thank you so much, this means so much to me! I don’t consider myself in any way adventurous or enlightened so the very thought that I could come across this way through writing is marvelously encouraging! Sending warm greeting back to that bar in Tokyo 🙂

  5. Well, those odds are not as slim as you’d think. It is very reassuring to see that i’m not alone in my struggle to become a productive writer. You are nearly 15,000 words ahead of me, and I would be happy to call my progress rubbish.
    But there is a smoldering flame in me somewhere I can’t seem to extinguish. I’ve gotten keep tryin.
    Cheers!

    • Don’t let that flame burn out, Gabe! It’s there for a reason. The very best of luck to you.. and from experience, the first 1000 words are by FAR the hardest! Thanks so much for stopping by here. x

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