A couple of writer friends I respect a great deal have mentioned something along these lines over the last day or two, so I thought I’d write a similar admission. I can often feel guilt and frustration and joy in equal measure. I genuinely love to see my fellow writers sharing great successes, be they new publishing deals, story sales, movie options, or anything else. It is fantastic to see those successes, and it proves those things are possible for all of us. Do I envy those successes too, because I want them for myself? Fuck yeah, I do. I can be happy for my peers and cranky it’s not me at the same time. We contain multitudes, us fleshy bags of need and yearning. And the thing is, I know damn well that every time I post about one of my successes, there are others out there who are equally happy-envious of me. Of course they are, they’re only human. But there’s an imbalance in this, because we only post the successes, not the toil and failure in between. We only show the beautiful rose, not the dirt and shit it was grown in. And that’s worth remembering.
For every success, I guarantee that there’s a lot of non-success. Failure isn’t the right word – we only fail when we quit – but lack of success is common. All the time we’re refusing to give in, we just have varying levels of success, from none to HOLY SHIT! But for every story sale, there are dozens of rejections. For every new book deal, there are dozens of “Thanks, but no thanks”. Even for every movie option, there are loads of enthusiastic messages from producers or studios that ultimately come to absolutely nothing.
No one is successful all the time. No one bats a home run with every ball they strike. But the weird thing is, we never post about all the times we miss. Honestly, we’d look like whinging sad sacks if we did, because as a writer it’s quite possible to miss almost daily. At least every week something I hoped might come good simply doesn’t. Or something that looks to be awesome crashes and burns for no good fucking reason halfway through take-off. It’s the nature of this industry.
So if we’ve had fifty rejections, but then we get an acceptance, you bet your best socks we sing and dance about it. The trouble is, for everyone else out there looking in, they only see the success. And it probably seems not that long since the last success, especially if we’re working really hard, because the successes are all we post about. So it looks like we’re out here swimming in a pool of acceptance letters like Scrooge McDuck diving into a mountain of cash. It’s a skewed perspective.
And even when we do post about our wonderful successes, we don’t post about the shit that might follow. If we sell a new book to a publisher, damn straight we sing out about it. When that book is published and fucking bombs, hardly selling any copies and quickly dropping off reader and reviewer radars… yeah, we don’t tend to sing so publicly about that. But it does happen. And we do go on and on about it, but with our friends in private. It’s the standard lie of social media – you see all the gloss and none of the dross.
But trust on me on this – the more you see someone winning, the harder they are working. There are a fuckton of horrible crashes and misses between every win, so if someone seems to be winning a lot, they are losing a lot too. This business is brutal and thankless and demoralising as hell a lot of the time. But we don’t quit. Every one of those wins is a reminder that they can happen, do happen, will happen again. So we keep going. Like Rocky in the last seconds of the round, we are not going down. AAADDRIIIAAANNNNNN! We write again. And again. Because we know how much we want it. We know we can do it. You have to dig through a lot of shit to grow a rose and that’s what we do, day after day. The only thing in this whole business we control is the writing. So that’s what we do, that’s what we fall back on, every time. We write, and we try to get better with every word. Nothing else is in our control.
I guarantee that almost no one is the runaway success they might appear to be. We’re all busting our arses to stay afloat, always hoping for more readers to build our career, more acceptances here and there among the slew of rejections. But in the bad times, we don’t post about it publicly – we knuckle down and work. Then when something good comes up, we sure as hell post about that. And because I know that to be true, when my peers post about their successes, even though I’m jealous it’s not me, I also mutter a heartfelt “Fuck yeah!” because not only do they deserve that success, it’s a reminder that it can happen to me too.
The only failure is quitting. Never give in, never surrender. Dig as much shit as necessary to grow as many roses as you can. I’m here to cheer you along, and hopefully every now and then you’ll be cheering for me too.