In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I believe in the Fail Cycle. The older I get, when I want to relax and put life into cruise control, I know I need to force myself to keep working to improve through challenge and failure.
What is the fail cycle? In short, you have to push yourself to get better. If you are pushing your limits far enough, you will fail. But, when you stay after it with perseverance and hard work, improvement is inevitable. If you are not working to move forward, you are moving backward. And yes, neutral is backward.
Coaching and training are filled with the experiences of the fail cycle, so is being a writer. But the experiences are much different. Coaching is a group exercise, we push a collective of people, personalities and philosophies toward a common goal of success. The failures and the improvement are shared within the group. Training can be a group exercise and it can be very personal. The individual or team is pushed to failure, but the failure is mostly internal to the individual or group. Writing is a whole new animal. It is personal and it is individual. Failure from the necessary exposure to outside editing and critique bites sharp at the marrow of the writer. It is a frightening experience.
Recently, I read a open blog invitation from an agent, Mary Kole, on her excellent writing blog site (www.kidlit.com). She read a book called HOOKED by Les Edgerton on book beginnings and offered the opportunity for her readers to submit the first 500 words of one of their manuscripts for her professional critique. She would select five and do critical workshops on them on the blog. I knew from her blog posts and information she provides on her site that she is a no B.S. professional. She knows her stuff and stands true for what she knows is the right way to write.
Basically, I knew sending in a beginning to one of my stories was putting myself out to the battlefield without armor or weapon. I knew Mary Kole would pull no punches on the five beginnings she selected for the workshop. With this looming in back, front and both sides of my mind, I took the chance anyway and sent in the first 500 words to a story I am working on. The story, an upper middle grade fiction story called WONDERLAND GARDENS, is about a 14 year-old boy who must use the resources of the elderly citizens of the Wonderland Gardens Retirement Village to save his classmate nemesis, a girl, from the evil clutches of a possessed dance instructor.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) out of the 100+ submission and dodging the bullet through four of the five workshops, guess who gets a cheery email on Friday July 1 from Mary Kole informing me I was Number 5? Great, I submitted such a great examples of how NOT to start a story that I get to be the finale to the workshops! Then, when one reads in her introduction, “This workshop will be a little more nitpicky”, one wants to crawl away and hide. But, as I read Mary’s criticisms, I knew straight away she was spot on with her comments. Everything she pointed out, when fixed, will make for a exponentially better beginning to the story. If you wish to witness the train wreck and Mary Kole’s exceptional and helpful critique, here is the link to the Beginning Workshop #5
Failure…is…necessary. If I want to get better at anything I do, parent, husband, writer, scientist, coach and trainer, it takes hard work. It takes pushing the envelope, failing, then working to get better. I’m rewriting the beginning to WONDERLAND GARDENS following Mary Kole’s suggestions. The first draft I did last night was miraculously so much better than the original version I previously submitted. I might have to do a future post comparing the two versions when I complete the newest version.
A special thanks to Mary Kole, associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, for sharing her time and resources to help fledgling authors like myself. This trip into the literary fail cycle has been quite an experience. Hopefully, my story and my skill development will also reap great benefits because of it.
Finally, here is an applicable quote from Neil Gaiman’s 10 Tips to Writing.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
Have a great Fourth of July holiday!
Addendum: I forgot to put this in the original post. When the failure robs the fun and enjoyment out of whatever you choose to do, it is time to back off a bit, take a short or a long break to recharge the motor, then take a running start at the next attempt. The fail cycle should be an exercise of improvement, not an exercise in complete misery.