Failure — The Path To Success

So, you want to be a writer; you best prepare for failure.Waterfall

The first reaction to that statement might be, “Why bother to try,” or, “Stop being a pessimist,” or perhaps, “Gee, Rick, you need to read a book on positive thinking.”

I am a realist, and the path to success (regardless of the venture) is always littered with failure–that is true of writing more than most endeavors, and therein, is the beauty and strength of failure.

Before you can reach success (or failure, in most cases) you must first try to do something. Did you set out to walk five miles, got tired, and stopped after two miles? Some (including your negative internal self) may very well consider the walk a failure, but is it? First off, you tried; without the attempt to walk five miles, you would not have walked two, right? Failure or success? It is all a matter of attitude.

Writing is much the same thing, but even more so.

You set out to write a story (trying), and after a great amount of effort, you create a story you like (success). Perhaps you let a few close friends or family members read the story; some like it (success), some do not (failure). Undaunted, you format the story according to a certain magazine or publisher guideline and send it off.

The story is rejected (failure). Again, you send it out and again it is rejected, perhaps multiple times (the failures mount). Many rejections, if not most, will come as a form letter with the words, “Your story is not suitable at this time.” You are crushed.

I have a file titled, “Collection of Rejection.” The “collection” shows me how many times I have succeeded; not only have I created a number of stories and articles, but I tried to have them published. Some of those rejections came from markets that do not pay–that hurts a little extra.

The difference between a successful person and a failure is this: a failure gets knocked down and remains there; a successful person gets knocked down, gets back up, gets knocked down again, but refuses to stay down–they keep trying.

You have heard the stories of how many times Thomas Edison tried to fashion a light bulb; how many times a favorite author was rejected before their blockbuster enthralled the masses–why do you think you are any different?

Success is determined by your courage to keep trying against insurmountable odds, not allowing the world to determine or dictate who or what you are. Failure is a necessary ingredient to the equation that includes success.

Now, go keep failing . . .


This Week’s Links: Short Story Markets

Flash Fiction
Fantasy Scroll
Uncanny Magazine
Dargon Zine

This Week’s Quote:

‘You have to see failure as an opportunity’ –Howard Jacobson


Beware of Writer Blogs

During my search for this week’s useful links, I found several that were not, which required I publish this post in lieu of what I had planned.

There are many so-called “writing blogs.” Many I found are little more than motivational hoopla designed to get you, the writer, excited about writing–and then try to sell you something other than their book. They will tell you to call yourself a writer, and thereby, you are. This is a lie. You are a writer only if you write.

The people operating the blogs cater to the millions of would-be writers who actually do little to improve their craft–you know, write. These blogs attempt to convince the writing dreamers that building a platform is the coveted “mystery” on how to succeed as a writer, and by God, they know how to accomplish this, and they are the only one that can help you be successful. “I failed 9 times, but finally I learned, and I can teach you how to build a following of 1,000, 10,000, even 100,000 just like me, without the pain and disappointment I experienced.”

carnival_barker“You must listen to me, or you will fail” begins as a whisper and ends as a shout: “Not only do you get this, but you get that at no extra charge.” Reminiscent of the carnival barker or late night Infomercials that will clear your acne, clean your colon, show you how easy it is (with virtually no money down) to buy and sell houses. They did it, why can’t you? Because, dear friend, many of them did not, at least to the degree matching their claims.

The marketers will add quotes from participants whose lives were changed by their exclusive course and are now rolling down easy street without a care in the world. However, they will not tell you about the majority of “students” that wasted the $500 for the marketing program promoted under the guise of writing.

The operators of these blogs are building their business and little of it has to do with writing. I have owned several small businesses with my wife, been in sales; I know the tactic. And don’t get me wrong, purchasing information can be valuable. Several years ago, I took a Writer’s Digest Course; the story I crafted for the class sold to Women’s World prior to class completion. (You can read “The Accomplice” here).

The Knights of Writ is geared toward improving the writing, word by word. To me, that remains the most essential, the most fundamental ingredient if you actually want your words read by the world and not just a few family members and friends.

I make this promise to you, dear reader: I will not provide links to these Self-Help gurus who offer to fix everything for you, when in actuality, they are simply building a business on the hopes and dreams of wishful thinking. No, links here will be from real writers and agents, people who, like you, are driven by passion for the writing craft. (If I inadvertently add the wrong type, please let me know–the link will be removed).

Now, go write the story tickling your subconscious or the novel that must be written, the one that only you can write.


Writing is Pain — Embrace It

“No Pain, No Gain.” You have heard this attributed to everything, from athletics to Zoology. “Life is pain,” said by Geena Davis’s character in The Long Kiss Goodnight, followed by “Get used to it.” I would add, “Embrace it.” Pain and Gain are two of life’s maxims, and from those truths, surge a writer’s power.dark forest house

As writers, Pain and Gain are the essence of our lives and our stories. Without pain–obstacles–our characters wallow in a vacuum of normalcy, sameness over and over again. Boring. (See What Makes a Story here). Life does not exist without pain; no one escapes.

Pain of divorce, ache of losing a loved one, the sheer terror of being diagnosed with cancer: all are “gatherings” for the writer, emotions attacking the psyche, the angst causing short, panicked breaths and a befuddled, unfocused mind. Within the painful whirlwind of the writer’s experience, there comes (later, probably) the desire to explain it, analyze it, and ultimately share it by written word. That is our nature, perhaps even our purpose.

Sharing those experiences is also a writer’s greatest therapy.

Experiencing the emotions and events that cause them makes us better people, and better writers, too. People often say they learn more during times of trouble (usually when looking back) than times of smooth sailing. The main thing is, regardless of the emotion you experience, write about it, and use the feelings when inside your character’s skin. Showing the feelings your characters battle is how you pull readers into an intimate relationship with your characters and your story. Emotion is key.

To evoke a reader’s emotion gives me the greatest joy as a writer. Having a reader say “I cried,” or “I laughed,” or even that my words made them ponder a familiar topic in a new light, or reminded them of an event in their past–those things lift my heart. Or when a dear friend of mine said, “I tasted the blood on her lip.” Ah, the blessing.

Lest you think doom and gloom are my nature, wonderful emotions like affection, love, tenderness, and gaiety are equally important for your characters. Those “everything is right” feelings are great emotions for stories, especially right before the hammer slams down.

Keep Writing,


This Week’s Quote:

Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

This Week’s Links: Fun Stuff

Word Count of Favorite Books
Fantasy Novelist’s Exam
Famous Authors Whose Books Were Rejected Multiple Times
Bad Writing Advice Explained



The Writer’s Gateway — The Query

A writer travels through many gateways: first story, first novel, first time someone else reads their prose, first rejection, and first writing conference. All require a step of faith, a stretching beyond the comfort zone, and all start the hands shaking and palms sweating.arch to forest

I am nearing one such gateway, a Writer’s Conference. Actually it is the Portland Writer’s Workshop, meaning along with lectures covering a wide array of topics, the conference is geared toward sharing one’s “pitch” to attending agents. I will pitch my fantasy novel, The Returning. (More about that a little later). Standing up and telling my story idea to people in the industry! (Excuse me while I clench my hands together; I know I have a towel around here somewhere).

I have not attended a writer’s conference because I have not been able to afford such a venture: some cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. I am just a poor working man, and until now, could never equate value for the dollars expended. The conference I have chosen is different for the following reasons:

  1. It is reasonably priced–$129 for the day + $29 per pitch and $59 to talk with Chuck Sambuchino in person–more on him at #5.
  2. I have a completed novel
  3. The conference is held in Portland, Oregon, a 3 hour drive from my doorstep.
  4. The conference is scheduled for 1 day–easy for a full-time worker.
  5. The conference includes a respected agent, Chuck Sambuchino, from Writer’s Digest. He will be accepting 1 page queries with the goal of helping writers perfect the first thing the agent or editor sees. The Query Letter is the Writer’s Selling Tool.

Planning for the conference includes perfecting my “pitch,” which is designed as a 60-90 second verbal rendering of what my novel is about–a cross between a query and a synopsis. The three things within the package sent to an Agent are normally:

  1. The Query (1 single-spaced page),
  2. The Synopsis (1 to 3 double-spaced pages normally),
  3. An example of your project, whether novel or non-fiction. This varies depending on agent, anywhere from the first 5 pages to the first 3 or 4 chapters. Each agent is different, so follow their instruction exactly: they are busy folks, and their requirement often reflects their heavy work load.

There are 3 main sections within the Query (ie., Writer’s Selling Tool), following the greeting.

  1. Introduce the characters and overall story in a compelling way to entice the person (agent, editor, etc.) to see more of the story–in a very short space, whether verbal or written.
  2. A little background of who you are, your published works, if any, and why you wrote the piece. Why you wrote is normally for non-fiction where you offer your background and expertise to add validity to the project.
  3. An offer to see more.

Simple, right? Not so fast. You only have 1 single-spaced page, and it must be the best writing of your career. (This week’s Writing Links includes several on Queries).

Brevity, Clarity and Punch are the three elements needed within the query.

  1. Brevity: You have one single-spaced page (only 2 or 3 paragraphs of “story information”) so the writing needs to be tight, and by tight, I mean NO extra words, and that means none of your flowery prose. Remember, it is a Sales Tool whose primary purpose is to show you are a professional and that you have an idea worth the agent or editor’s investment. Publishing is a business, and the function of running a business is to make money while filling a consumer need.
  1. Clarity: There is no time for rambling. Your query must be concise, to the point, and finish with an offer to see more. Within a very short space, the reader must get a sense and feel not only of the story itself, but also a hint of you, the writer.
  1. Punch: This may be the most difficult part. The Punch should not include the entire story line (that is offered in the Synopsis) but should include enough Aha! moments and mystery so that the agent MUST see more. No boring stuff here.

With that in mind, here is the query I am developing for the conference. I ask you to read the single page and let me know if it encompasses the “enticement” factor that would prompt you to want more. Add a comment: did it work for you? Would you ask to see more? Or comment with a query you are preparing, one that worked (or did not) in an effort to assist other Knights of Writ followers.

I have said this several times before, but it is worth repeating: Writers need other writers. Do not be shy; we are all friends here. Let us know your thoughts as we strive to improve our skills. Remember, a writer’s viewpoint is their greatest asset.


This Weeks Links: Queries

Successful Queries
How to Write a Query
Query Pet-Peeves–Agents Speak
10 things I learned from Chuck Sambuchino

This Week’s Quote:

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman


Be Grateful For The Path Chosen

I woke up early this morning (5:15am) as I always do–my eyes on writing. As mentioned last week, the first two hours before the darkness creeps to dawn are often the best of my day. forest path

Today is Saturday! I’m off from the bill-paying job that, at times, sucks dry my creative energy.

Today is mine. Being only the 3rd day of the new year, I reflect on the past twelve months. I realize how grateful I am: I am married to a wonderful woman, reared two passionate children, and I write.

I write. I am grateful for that, to have a passion–most people do not. Many people slog day after day, finding what pleasure they can in the everyday sameness. You are a writer. Be grateful for the path chosen; unlike many, you can play, you can create people and worlds and situations that very well may entice and entertain others. First, however, you must please yourself.

Oh, but somebody did not like the last writing you shared? Perhaps a loved one or rejection from somebody “in the know” like an editor or teacher. It hurt. Okay, childbirth hurts too, but the joy that follows makes the pain of the actual event moot in a very short time.

To be a writer is to write, and by and large, the desire to create trumps all else. Rejoice that you can, and though millions wish they could, you are unique and the world is waiting to hear your specific and genuine voice. Do not let them down.

Today’s Quote:

“There are many more people who do not write yet feel perfectly at ease sniping at those who do. When such a snipe comes your way, remind yourself that you are the one putting yourself on the line, opening a vein, walking the tightrope, singing a solo under hot lights. You are part of a courageous bunch who are all about doing.” — James Scott Bell