Failure and Success

A reader working on a study project about Canadian authors has asked me to share something about my “successes and failures”. This is a straightforward request and the answer ought to be simple but I’m having trouble with it. Why? I suspect that at some point I stopped thinking about life and writing in the stark black and white terms of success and failure, and finding my way back to framing a response to this is a challenge.

So here goes. Failures. There is no doubt that a publisher’s rejection of a manuscript I’ve babied, loved, hated, fought or flown with for a year (or more) of my life could be deemed a failure. For a book I’ve labored to create to be dismissed with “meh, not good enough” is tough. It happens. It happened a number of times when I first began submitting manuscripts to publishers and, woe, it continues to happen.

Generally, I’ve decided the rejecting editor is an utter fool. And time passes. I may then decide said editor had a point. And time passes. Finally, I decide to revisit the manuscript—or not. I’ve yet to actually burn one but the impulse has occurred. There’s one book in particular that has been kicking around for over 10 years and it refuses to quietly die. I hope and fear in equal measure that the day will come when for the third (or is it the fourth?) time I will tackle it again. Some stories insist on being told and when I figure out exactly how they must be told then perhaps the story will have its time to be shared.

Success. I suppose for a writer this could be measured by the sheer fact of having books published. That’s not easily done and for me, there have been ten books so far with number eleven due out in the spring of 2017. I was so delighted when my first book, Battle of the Bands, was published in 2006, and each book thereafter has been cause for celebration.

Success could also be measured in terms of awards; my books have earned some of these, including the short-list for the Governor General’s award for Me, Myself and Ike. There have been many good reviews. There have been solid sales figures, audio books, and translations into French, Spanish, Swedish, Finnish, Korean and Norwegian.

But in truth, as hokey as it may sound, to me success has resonated most deeply when I feel I’ve made something beautiful. That “something” could be a single sentence or it could be a massive, “Aha!” I got that. I understand that character, I understand something I never understood until now when it sprang from this thing I do for the love of it—writing.

Oh, and in case anyone doubts that Canadian authors write for the love of it and not the money, a 2015 survey done by the Writer’s Union of Canada found the average writer’s annual income is a mere $12,879 (way below the poverty line and $36,000 below the national average income). This certainly explains why I must keep my part time “day job” and devote far less time than I’d like to writing books.

Most writers I know seldom have the option to discuss “success” in terms of monetary value. So let’s pretend (writers of fiction enjoy pretending) that I didn’t mention the nasty money thing and I’ll return to the bit where if and when I’m inclined to measure success I dwell on the joy of this thing. Creating. That’s it, right there. To create, even if it’s wrong, or messy, or no one else gets it, or it’s awkward or gorgeous or busting out with teary kindred-soul recognition, that act in and of itself, in whatever form it takes, is success. I believe that leap, that try is what we humans were made to do.

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