“I’ve never failed at anything in my life,” he said, earnest and nervously giggling. “And now I can’t fail. I have a family and a mortgage.”
“But what’s the worst thing that would happen? Do you really believe you couldn’t recover? What if you succeeded?”
“I have no choice now.”
I thought, how sad.
To have never experienced failure means you are completely unprepared for it. And to put such incredible pressure on yourself out of a sense of obligation to others to the point of feeling like you have no choice? To expect failure when you try for something? I’ve learned something valuable every time I’ve failed. Every. Single. Time. In fact, my prior failures were instrumental in getting me to this point in my professional and personal life. I wear my failures as badges of honor and proof of my survival and endurance.
Are you afraid of failure? Is that really how you want to live? How you want to make your decisions? From a position of fear?
I often have surprising conversations with people in lots of different contexts – as a teacher, a workshop leader, a friend. But when I hear someone give up on the idea of passion or greatness or career risk because they are afraid or feel trapped, that just makes me sad. I realize a lot of people do this – take the unfulfilling job or less-than career because so many people around them say variations of “that’s too risky!” Or maybe the individual looks around and believes there is too much at stake to take any risk at all. And later, when that unfulfilling career becomes untenable and the person is truly miserable, those same chorus of voices resonate with doubt, determined to make the person remain on a so-called “safe” path.
Worse than failing at something after you’ve tried is to never try in the first place. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was told as a child that my dream job was too risky or there was too much competition, so I should do something more practical. I wanted to be an actor. A stage performer. And at nine, I was admonished that there were too many people trying to have that career, it is a hard way to make a living, it’s very risky, and I’m probably not good enough to compete. I chose my other passion, writing, to which the response was basically the same, but my drive and confidence as a writer (even at nine) was so great that I was able to assert myself and stick with that objective despite the constant naysaying from all of those “caring” people.
I often wonder why families, in particular, seem so driven to crush the dreams of their younger members. The only answer I can come up with is fear. Some sense that taking risks is a bad thing – and that there are some sort of mythological jobs that are “safe” and “easy” to get and keep.
What is your experience with failure? With fear? With naysayers? There’s a line in the show (and movie) Auntie Mame that I absolutely love: “Life’s a banquet! And most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!”
Are you going all in with the banquet? Or are you starving? If I could make a recommendation, I would suggest that we all need to live our own lives, take risks, try to follow our passion, and stop listening to the voices telling us to be afraid. Don’t be afraid to risk or to fail. Rather, be afraid of living a life where you never even tried.
When you sit down to write, are you sometimes overcome with the thought that you can’t possibly have anything to say or add to an over-saturated market? That your life isn’t exciting enough to be interesting to anyone? That you have nothing of value to offer a public audience? Do you often put yourself and your writing down (“I’m a terrible writer,” “This [piece you are currently working on] sucks.”
If this sounds familiar, then you suffer from a confidence block.
This is a terrible and self-defeating feeling, but if you are willing to ignore it, there is a way to overcome it: Practice.
And practice in this case means writing and submitting your work again and again and again. Take an active stand in your own defense. If YOU don’t think you have anything to offer, why would anyone else think so? YOU are the one who must first believe that your writing has value.
Editors like to work with confident writers. Think about it – if you don’t present yourself as confident in your writing and your pitch, why would any editor want to take a chance on you? She has to believe that you have what it takes to see this project through.
Think about this in another context: The job interview.
When you apply for a job, do you pepper your cover letter with self-deprecation and doubt? Of course not. Because if you did, you’d never land an interview. Okay. So you’ve presented as a confident and experienced potential employee. Now how do you talk about yourself during the interview? Do you put yourself down and talk about how much you don’t know? Of course not. Because if you did, you wouldn’t have a job. Employers hire confident people who appear to be able to handle the job. Editors want the same thing.
You may not suddenly have confidence in your own work, but please stop saying such things out loud. Write your stories, submit over and over and over until an editor says yes, and build your confidence through methodical practice. There is no magic, or voodoo, or magic pixie dust that separates you from that confident writer whom you admire. The only difference is that person decided to feel unsure and write/submit her work anyway.
You can do this, too. Approach your writing like a job and practice until you feel the confidence you crave.
Each week, check this Monday posting for a selection of current calls for submissions, good writing advice from the interwebs, and legit writing job listings. Fear less, do more. And may we all have a productive and successful 2015!
Calls for Submissions
This looks like a good one – and they’ve got another interesting themed issue coming up called “Queering Nature.” But here is their description for the current call that closes Feb. 7:
“The Fourth River welcomes submissions that explore the relationship between humans and their environments, both natural and built, urban, rural or wild. We are looking for writing that is richly situated at the confluence of place, space and identity—or that reflects upon or makes use of landscape and place in new ways.”
Ah, The Writer’s Market. I wrote a column for their Writer’s Digest magazine years ago called “Freelance Success” when I was a freelance journalist. I’ve always had a soft spot for this company and their publications. So imagine my delight upon discovering this gem – a link that I shared with my Advanced Memoir participants this past weekend at the Murphy Poetry and Prose Getaway in New Jersey. It is good advice, particularly for you memoir-writers. Read and learn.
I happen to know lots of writers – some academic, some business, some creative – and some of these people would very much like to be paid (or paid better) for their writing skills and experience. In an effort to help them – and you, if you count yourself amongst the writing clan who want to be employed somewhere with a good salary and benefits, I offer this segment on legit writing-related jobs. Because there is NOTHING wrong with wanting a good salary and benefits – and no, you are not selling out. Writers deserve to be paid for our skills, so without further ado, check out this choice-sounding Publications Manager position with Corporate Accountability International located in Boston, Mass.
Writers are storytellers. No matter the medium or genre, writers work hard to craft delectable stories for public consumption. And we all know that some stories are better than others. So what differentiates a fascinating, compelling, riotous story from one that is just okay?
Moments of Reflection.
Something has to happen.
Make us care.
Stories work in academic writing, business writing, and creative writing, so over the next several weeks, I will be tackling each of the above ideas in more depth. But for now, look at the list and then look at a story you are writing…how strong is your opening line? Does it really catch your attention in such a manner that you can’t look away? When others read your opening paragraph, does it take their breath away or make them sigh or pause or gasp? If not, then back to the drawing board with you.
Create an opening line that snags onto your reader’s eyeballs, brain, and heart with double-barbed hooks and won’t let go. Stab your reader in the gut or make him chuckle heartily or make her so curious that she has no choice but to keep reading. No explanations, no meandering descriptions, no dull and flat verbosity to start your story. Hammer a statement. Get the reader’s attention. (Because if you are striving to publish, that reader will first be an editor and if you don’t catch HER attention, well, you’ve heard of the slush pile.)
Now let’s get 2015 off to a strong start by writing some amazing opening lines. Get to work.
Dear friends, readers, blog followers, and passers-by,
This has been a rollicking, crazy-making, exhausting, exhilarating, productive, and fast-paced semester. I turned in my seven binders of evidence for tenure and promotion, wrote 64 posts since I started this blog on August 4, 2014, taught 90 students, and graded 230 papers and 90 presentations. Now that it is over, I must recoup. As I have recommended to you in previous posts, it is important to rest, relax, have fun, and generally recover from the madness of daily life in order to be a better writer and happier human. I am now proudly taking my own advice. My plans for the next month involve lots of self-care, cooking, movie-watching, lounging around in my pj’s, teaching at a writers’ getaway, and even having a grand travel adventure! Lots of relaxation and fun on the horizon.
Some business housekeeping: If you wish to contact me about editing services, writing coach services, or writing consultation, please email me directly at amandamorrisphd (at) gmail (dot) com and we can certainly have a discussion about your writing needs and how I can help after January 15.
Fellow writers: If you have a topic that you’d like me to address, please leave a comment on this post or email me and I will be sure to add your topic to the 2015 queue.
Happy Holidays everyone, and please be sure to take some much-needed downtime for yourselves. You’ve earned it!
See you in 2015!
This is the season for resolutions. So many people resolve to create unrealistic expectations for themselves that they enter the new year destined for disappointment. When it comes to our writing practice, let’s think more realistically.
Know when to quit.
“What?!” You bellow. “I am a writer! I will NEVER quit!”
That’s good, dear reader. But hear me out. You’ve come along this far, whether you were with me for the past few months following my writing prompts and practical posts, or whether you just happened by this morning. Breathe. And consider this:
Perhaps you’ve been working on a novel for years. Or a series of novels. And have been rejected by one hundred publishers. “But J.K. Rowling and Stephen King were rejected more,” you moan, outraged. True, but are you really as good at writing novels as J.K. Rowling and Stephen King? Really?
If the answer is objectively yes, that you just haven’t found your niche, your publishing home, and an editor to recognize your endurable genius, then please, by all means, keep on keeping on. But just maybe…
…maybe you should consider quitting the novel for now. Switching genres. Trying something else for awhile. Perhaps attend some writing workshops. Or a writing class to work on craft in a more formal environment. Or join/start a writing group to get more substantive feedback on your novel because…horror of horrors…what you are doing clearly isn’t working.
I would never advise anyone who is driven to be a published writer to quit writing, but I would recommend that if that person is writing in a genre that doesn’t seem to be working, he or she should take a break, quit that approach for now, and try a new direction.
Plodding down the same well-worn path when that path isn’t taking you anywhere is counter-productive. If long-form fiction is your thing, why not try writing a long-form story for a literary journal instead of tackling a large novel? Or maybe ratchet back to short stories to work on concision and tight prose?
Maybe your subject matter isn’t working as well as you think it is. You love romance novels, but all of your efforts have failed? Friends politely smile and say, “That’s interesting,” instead of “Oh my god! That’s amazing! How did you THINK of that?!”
Perhaps your heart is filled with poetry, but when you write it, the words come out lame and limping.
Sometimes re-evaluating what we write and how we write it can be a useful exercise. Quitting one genre or style or subject might lead you to the successful genre or style or subject – something that is a better fit for you.
If you’ve worked at this particular genre/style/subject/form for years and had no success? Time to quit and try something new.
Take on the new year with vigor and determination not to tread the same inadequate path. Commit to trying something new or expanding your education in the craft in order to improve. Quit whatever isn’t working and by the end of next year, you will see positive results.
The happiest of holidays and a most productive New Year to you all.