Failure is a path to success

Book One

Many years ago I decided to spend the summer rereading through 100 of my favorite childhood books. One of the things I noticed on my re-read is that authors’ first books or the first book of a series didn’t live up to my memory of them. That my memory conflated the character development from all of the books in a series and overlayed it on the events of the first book.

This was particularly illuminating for me because for my first “SRS RITR BZNS” project I’d decided to write a big fat epic fantasy cycle… and it wasn’t going well. You see, I couldn’t fit everything in. First I wrote a draft of Book 1, but then I discovered that left too much out, so I wrote a prequel. There were two side stories I wanted to explore so I wrote two novellas, then there were the short stories… and each one was a little better than the last, but my best work was also the least useful as it required everything else for context. So I had ~  700K words and nothing to submit.

After my re-read I realized all of my favorite authors had been learning as they went too. When I thought long and hard about it, I realized I was not a good enough writer to currently write the big fat epic fantasy cycle (I’m still not). And I could either continue to plink away at that world in bits and drabs until I was, or I could shift my focus to things I WAS good enough to write NOW and work to get them published as I continued to improve. It was going to take the same amount of time and writing either way.

I’d like to say that everything turned around immediately and I started publishing stuff right away, but that didn’t quite happen. I wrote another novel first, one I’m still revising for submission (novels take a long time to fix all the fiddly bits). What changed was I saw a call for stories from an editor I knew well enough that when I came up with a off-beat story, I knew it was the sort of stuff he’d dig. So I wrote it. And it was. And it was published. And I just keep building on that. It still feels like I’m pushing a boulder, but it isn’t uphill both ways in the snow anymore.

Walking away from the big fat fantasy cycle and writing something else gave me the confidence to try other things and start submitting. So that’s how I learned to give up and start succeeding.