“Don’t compare yourself to other writers,” one of the panelists said. “In this age of social media, where everyone celebrates their successes publicly, it’s easy to just see those. No one blogs about their failures, only their successes.”
In light of that, I want to write about my failures. I want to make them public, celebrate them, let everyone know that yes, it happens.
My very first draft of my very first novel was a failure. Of course it was. It was a NaNoWriMo novel, for goodness’ sake. I was so proud of finishing my first novel that I promptly sent it out to a friend. Luckily, I still had enough sense not to send it to an agent. But I figured it just needed a little polishing, and it should be good to go. Go ahead, laugh. My friend was very kind about it. But she told me honestly and gently–for which I’m eternally grateful–that it needed a lot of work. A lot. Half the things happened simply because I needed them to happen for the plot, which is never a good thing. Not that the plot made a lot of sense, either. Don’t even ask about the writing. Hodge-podge would be a kind way of describing it. There are some bits I’m still proud of, but 1% gold in a sea of sewerage was never going to cut it.
So I rewrote it. I rewrote it a second time with a new plot and additional characters, and turned it into a series of conversations. It was more of a skeleton of a novel than an actual novel. And the plot still needed work. It wasn’t until I was partway through the third rewrite that I finally worked out how I wanted to structure the novel. Which, of course, meant starting over yet again. The fourth rewrite was the one that finally made it through to a proper beta reader stage, and finally the spit and polish before the first round of agent submissions.
In case you were wondering… the failure doesn’t end there.
Only one agent in that first round asked for the full manuscript. One out of, oh, twenty or so. And her answer? Not really for me, but at least she gave some general comments on what worked for her and what didn’t. Kind soul that she was, she agreed to re-read it if I did a rewrite. In my infinite wisdom, I thought the best way to fix it was to rewrite an entire dual first-person novel into limited third-person. In a way, it was fantastic because I could show many other perspectives that added more to the overall plot and made the story stronger. But in another way, it really sucked because I lost the story’s unique voice. The agent’s response was still no. The only encouragement I could find out of that was her request to send my next piece of work because I had promise.
But “promise” doesn’t sell books, and it doesn’t get you out of your day job.
I tried more agents with my refined manuscript. Three asked for the full. Three sent rejection letters. I tried small presses. Indie presses. One of them commented that the story was interesting but there was just something about my writing that didn’t work for her, and she’d have to decline. It was a very nice way of saying it was still pretty terrible.
In the meantime, I worked on a second novel. This one, I was sure, would be my breakout novel. It had voice, dammit! It had humour. Hell, it even had a doomsday survivalist and pro-wrestling. Surely no one could turn those down. Unfortunately, the only thing it didn’t have was a proper plot. Or conflict. Turns out reading about someone rediscovering themselves isn’t all that interesting if there isn’t an underlying plot moving things along and forcing that change. Who would have guessed?
This one I didn’t bother sending to agents. At this point I’d learned enough to run it past my very honest friend, and I also put the first eight or so chapters through a crit group. It started off with great comments… then got mauled.
And of course, in between this were four or five short stories I wrote and sent around to online magazines. Turns out I’m nowhere near their level either.
My journey has been a series of failures so far. What now, you ask? I’m working on a third novel. This is it, I’m telling myself. Not only does it have a voice, but it has a plot (more or less). But we’ll see. It could be another glorious failure. No one ever said the writing business was easy, and the past five or so years have proven that to me beyond a doubt.
But while I’m here, while I’m still failing and chasing that elusive success, I want to share it. I want to be loud and proud. I failed. I’m doing terribly, but I’m learning along the way, so it’s okay. Because with each step, I’m closer to where I want to be.
For now, I will celebrate failure.
Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.