Sunday, October 31, 2010

Learning to Fail, Preparing to Succeed

First off, I have a new second place winner! However, since my other three winners replied promptly, technically they all have moved up and I have a new fifth place winner.:D

And new fifth place is Meghan Kirkland!

Same as last time, please reply to aprilynne pike at gee mail dot com. I need to hear from you by Saturday please!!

Other winners, I will get your prize packs mailed out this week!

Okay, the actual writing related post I promised you.:D I was a guest speaker at an event and my children's school earlier this week along with several other women who had successful careers in areas many people strive for. (A doctor, a lawyer, an artist.) The school has an elite gifted program that is rather renowned throughout the state and I am always hearing about the program's success, so I was a little surprised when the coordinator asked me to speak on the challenges that gifted young women face in going out and pursuing careers (all of the speakers were former gifted students, not necessarily at that school, though two were) and how to overcome them.

It was fascinating hearing from all of them and the work required to reach where they are now. I spoke first and the main theme that I spoke on was learning to fail. (And although my talk was specifically aimed at gifted students, I think it really applies to my readers here too, because both readers and writers tend to be on the gifted end, even if they are not specifically diagnosed as such.) As students, most gifted (or just plain bookish :D) kids find that school comes easy. They get high grades without trying, concepts root in their brains easily, etc. One of the main challenges that gifted students face is that when life and school do become challenging, they don't know how to handle that and have a tendency to shy away from these challenging fields. And in any of the four areas, all of the women could attest that at some point their goals became very, very difficult to attain.

For writers, it's rejection. One person asked me what the hardest part of being an author was, and though the answer to this changes frequently, that night I said, "Rejection." And that's because when you are an author, even when you're not getting agent and publisher rejections anymore (or at least not as many :D), there is always someone waiting to tell you what's wrong with your book. In the beginning it's your editor via ed letters. And even though ed letters are very constructive and meant to help you improve your book, the fact is that they are a big long letter outlining what's wrong with your book. And it's always hard to swallow. Especially that first read-through.

Then reviews roll in, and they can be harsh too. Even critically acclaimed books of awesomeness get burned by reviewers. Then the book is released and the readers are unleashed upon you. And trust me, they are more than happy to point out all the mistakes in your book.

And guess what happens with the next book? It starts all over! Every book is the same way. The rejection and criticism never stops. Learning how to deal with that is hard and has put a stop to more than one author's career.

Listening to the doctor and Lawyer speak was enough to make me feel like a major slacker.:D The doctor had attended 13 years of school (including her residency) without a single break. And because the lawyer had gotten a Masters degree before starting law school, she had gone to nine years of school with no breaks. Makes my 180 rejections over the course of two years seem really piddly.:D I was interested to hear, however, that the artist had a degree in scenic design (she paints and designs sets.) This was interesting to me because she and I both fell into the artist category and both of us had a Bachelor's degree in our field.

I gotta say, I don't think that's a coincidence.

Between my husband and I, we have several friends who are aspiring authors. For some of them, they have built their entire lives around eventually being big bestselling authors. (Please don't do this. Hope, dream big, but don't actually set your life up so it depends on being a self-sustained author.) But strangely, the people who are most determined to be big authors both refuse to go to school for it. At all.

Now, I'm not advocating that everyone who wants to be an author go out and get a writing degree. For the same reason you don't base your life on getting published. There are too many factors that are out of your control. But if you are serious about getting published, there are aspects about the process and the industry that you need to learn. Perhaps the best way to learn that is not in a class at all, but online with the myriad resources available to anyone who knows how to Google. Perhaps a night class at your local community college can help you get a better grasp on grammar/plotting/pacing/structure/ whatever it is that you need help with. There are so many ways to learn about writing--including just sitting down and doing it! But don't fall into that rut where you believe that you don't need to learn, you just need to write the right book/find the right editor/be introduced to the right person.

We can all learn. I learn something at every single writers conference that I attend. And the biggest and best authors out there will tell you that they are still learning new things. It's not a static skill where you reach a certain level and can dust of your hands and say, "Well, I'm done learning now." Every book is different, the industry changes daily, readers demand different things, etc. Learning is essential if you want to succeed. I firmly believe it is a necessary precursor to being able to succeed.

Writer's conferences won't magically make you publishable and having a degree in Creative Writing doesn't mean you know how to write a novel. Not having a college degree doesn't keep you from self-educating yourself nor does having a degree in a wholly unrelated field keep you from having the skills to be a brilliant plotter. There is no A+B=Published equation that will guarantee you success, but if you can't handle rejection and criticism, you are chasing the wrong dream, and if you refuse to let others teach you, you're probably never going to catch the dream at all. Learn to fail, but prepare yourself for success.

And yes, it is much more difficult than it sounds.

An author friend and mentor of mine asked at a writers conference last summer, "Why do so many people want to get published? To be full time writers? Because it's the best job in the world. But that's why it's so hard." It really struck me. It IS the best job in the world. But, like all truly attractive jobs, there is a lot of competition. Don't hold yourself back. Trust me, there are plenty of others who will try to do that for you.:D



Sonia Ayoub said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sonia Ayoub said...

Thank-you Aprilynne.
I can't tell you how timely this post is for me. Sometimes you need someone - even if it is a stranger whose blog you adore - to tell you to keep going.

Jessica McCann said...

Excellent post, Aprilynne. Your headline says it all.

I once read an article on freelance writing that said to succeed as a writer you have to have skin as thick as whale blubber. It's so true.

Thanks for sharing your insights!

Jessica McCann
Author of All Different Kinds of Free

Kayma said...

Thank-you for the wise words! Happy haunting!

Fantasy said...

Thanks for the advice! I need to learn to take criticism better. And I hoped that the criticizing would slow down as I got older! Apparently it doesn't. Darn! Oh, and do you know the exact day you will be posting the cover art for Illusions? I'm just itching to see it! :D

Ace and Eliz said...

Those were very inspiring words Aprilynne:)
And what time and day are you posting the cover art for ILLUSIONS on your blog?! I'm dying to see it:)

marwa.emalay said...

This is truly some great advice. It's a hard lesson to learn. That sometimes it's necessary to fail in order to succeed and I can't truly say that I HAVE learnt it, but it's a realisation we all have to make at SOME point.

Cheers :)

Abbi said...

I have to say, this post is SERIOUSLY uplifting, considering the fact that, just yesterday, I got another rejection. So, yeah. I was just telling myself as your blog was loading, that "As soon as I read what's new with her, I am going to work on agents. Whadda you know?
Thanks!! :)

Anita Saxena said...

Did you really have 180 rejections? Your perseverance alone is an inspiration to us all.

Ivy Hawthorn said...

Very timely post. Thanks so much Aprilynne for your awesome wisdom and reminders! They are so true and it's reassuring to know that it happens to everyone!

Thanks always!

Sarah said...

Thank you for that. I felt I became a writer when I received my first rejection. No acceptances so far. But I know that even when I'm getting a rejection, it means someone is reading what I'm writing. If I didn't send anything out then no one would read my writing.

TKAstle said...

Great post - and it applies to so many facets of life.

"Learn to fail, but prepare yourself for success." AMEN.

The Looney Writer said...

Dear Ms. Pike,
You have probably heard this many times, but I have read both your books, and I loved them! I think your writing is marvelous, and am waiting anxiously for the next book to come out. I hope to be a writer too, and in fact am writing my own story on my blog. I hope someday I can get published too.
Beatrice Wilder.

Jezreigh said...

Thank you for your pointers and advice on how to be an author :) It really helps me in deciding on what to do for future references! So far, I've submitted a draft I made to Young Authors Award (competition) here in SIngapore and I've manage to get in the finals. The winner will get their book published! I juts hope I'm one of them :) But just like what you said, we can't let rejection hold ourselves back.

Thank you so much!

Fiauna said...

You have hit the nail on the head! Those of us who had early academic success do find it more difficult to struggle. That has been a stumbling block for me since graduating from high school eons ago.

Thank you so much for posting this!