How To Fail Better

Sometimes it seems life conspires to discourage you. Not only are your blog stats in the doldrums but you keep hearing about people who are more successful than you are. Let’s face it, that wouldn’t be hard: yes, I’ve had some minor successes but compared to where I want to be, compared to what I feel I deserve for my efforts and talents, I’m basically in the wilderness.

Hang on – haven’t we been here before? Hm. It’s twinging a little memory in the hinterland of my consciousness. There’s a word emerging – san..san-something. It’s not English. Hang on, I’ll get it in a minute… ah yes. That was it.

The thing was, recently I met someone more successful than me. We were introduced to each other excitedly as ‘fellow-writers’ but it was evident that the other person did not experience much fellow-feeling towards me. With hindsight, perhaps that was because they feared I might be more successful than they; however the expectations of others – that we would have fruitful conversations, that this person might be able to help my career in some way, were not fulfilled. Nor did I expect them to be; I’ve had too many such encounters in the past to anticipate that anything will come from them: in my experience few established writers want to come to the aid of the unestablished. Unless, of course, you want to attend their workshops…

However, it brought back all the old gloomy sensations of failure and inadequacy: all the sensations that in terms of what most people think of as success, I am nowhere. Yet if we stop to deconstruct that word we can reconfigure it as ‘now here.’ I know that’s etymologically incoherent but it can be therapeutic: and that brings us back to santosh. Contentment; the practice of being where you are and accepting that this is where you need to be. contentment – as I have to keep reminding myself – does not mean resignation. It does not mean accepting that you will stay where you are. It’s more like GPS; finding your position and acknowledging that the journey has to start (or continue) from where you are: that much as you’d like to be over there on the headland, you must first navigate the swamp.

Besides, I’ve always found petty rivalry most unattractive: which is why I’m not at all envious that Brian has just cycled half-way round the world and is now contemplating another 36-hour fast. I am utterly serene and my teeth are not gritted!

Kirk out

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10 thoughts on “How To Fail Better

  1. I don’t think it was quite half-way round the world, unless Ireland is the limits of the known world. I could perhaps beat my own personal best and do the equivalent of around the actual world within the year… (Mark Beaumont has done it twice, the second time in less than three months; that’s impressive to me) and that’s the thing; I like to 1) improve on myself, and 2) gain inspiration from others. For these we can all work together, inspiring and encouraging. I shy away from direct competition with others, I had done since school when others could run faster than me, or learn things quicker and get better grades.

  2. “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.” (Bob Dylan)

    I recently attended a series of (free) workshops run by a moderately successful crime fiction writer. I have zero interest in crime fiction, either the reading or the writing of it but I thought I’d go along, anyway, as I’d lose nothing by attending. I’ll have to be honest and admit that a lot of what he said was either common-sense or Writing 101. Inevitably, it was somewhat skewed toward crime fiction but the most depressing ‘takeaway’ (ugh!) from the experience was that all fiction there days is genre fiction and it it doesn’t have a genre, it won’t be looked at. Also, there are five major publishers whom you ‘must’ be with if you are to even stand a chance of earning a living from your work. Agents will want to be satisfied that you have 40,000+ followers on twitter before they will even glance at your manuscript and if you are so foolish as to admit to having self-published a book, it will hobble your chances with anyone who might otherwise have taken you seriously.

    The author himself I found hard to make out: on the one hand, he seemed to have a realistic sense of his work and its relative artistic/commercial worth (‘I’m not all that important to my publisher’, he said, adding that J.K. Rowling was also published by them) but his ego did slip into the daylight at certain unguarded moments. I suppose there are plenty worse people at his level, and many worse below that level. He’d begun life as a journalist and had decided, in his late forties, that he was fed up with journalism and wanted ‘to be a writer’. ‘Had I known, before trying, how difficult it is to make a living from writing’, he said, ‘I doubt if I’d have tried it.’ But, being unaware of the obstacles, he succeeded. Mad world, isn’t it?

    1. Well I must say I disagree with your crime fiction writer on all counts: plenty of writing is published that isn’t genre fiction and my other half self-published several books before being taken up by a publisher. There are exceptions to every supposed ‘rule’. Sometimes I think these writers lead workshops as much to discourage others as to encourage them; they are gatekeepers telling the rest of us that we’ll never make it. If I had a pound for everyone who’d told me it wasn’t worth my while even trying I’d be making a living that way instead; fortunately the words ‘you can’t’ have always been to me as a red rag is to a bull

  3. I also find it strange when people think that two writers will get on because they ‘have something in common.’ What does someone who writes fiction about serial killers have in common with someone who writes books about elderly ladies finding late-flowering love on world cruises? Academic question: would Michell Houellebecq have ‘got on’ with Jane Austen? (The answer: almost certainly not). That’s not to say that a writer in one genre can’t learn from a writer from a different genre, of course but the idea that people are ‘connected’ because they operate under the same broad umbrella profession is ridiculous. ‘Hey, Noel (Gallagher), I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine, Stephen (Sondheim). You’re both songwriters, so you’re bound to have lots in common.’

    Cue raised eyebrows all round.

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