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Permission to Fail -- by Jon Goff

Success is a funny thing, we all want it, but to get it we have to fail.  From our failures, we learn the lessons that lead to success.  We learn what works and what doesn't and that refining process takes us toward the success we all want.

One of the hardes things we deal with as writers is rejection. We know it's part of the business, but it still doesn't help when we get the rejection letter with no hint or clue as to why we were rejected.  Every writer has wondered why editors don't tell us why they rejected our story.  The answer is simple, they don't have time, but that doesn't help with the feelings of frustration we feel when we get a rejection.  We want to know why, why don't they want the story, what was wrong, what do I need to change, etc. 

In an interview I did with author C.S. Friedman, we talked about the publishing process and she shared an experience she had when visiting the offices of DAW.  DAW has something they call The Wall.  It's where they stack manuscripts that come in every day.  It stretches the entire length of a large room, and mansucripts are stacked by thousand, floor to ceiling.  DAW recieves hundeds of thousand of manuscripts a year.  The simple fact is that editors don't have time to give us feedback on why they didn't select our story.

It's just a reality.  So, when I submited a story to Marrion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy magazine I was thrilled when my rejection letter contained a handwritten note at the bottom. "I really enjoyed this, but this is more of a horror story than fantasy.  Keep writing, you have the ability to write stuff that sells.  MZB."

I later sold the story to a small publication that specialized in horror.  While moderating Critique Circle I often run across posts where a new writer is afraid to post their work for criticism. They lack faith in themselves, or their skills.  They're afraid of making mistakes, or having their mistakes seen.  It is important to remember that everyone who knows anything once knew nothing, and while The Sounding wasn't my first story it was my first sale precisely because I'd made a mistake in sending it to the wrong magazine.  I learned about genres and something about what editors look for. 

There's a saying, you have to learn to walk before you can run.  Thinking about watching my nephew take his first steps, I would like to ammend that saying:  You have to fall down a lot before you can walk.

So turn of the spell check, turn off the grammar check, throw caution to the wind and write, even if it's terrible.  Give yourself permission to fail  It's the only way to succeed.

Posted by Jon Goff 26 Jan 2014 at 00:11
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Responses to this blog

Owllady 26 Jan 2014 at 21:43  
Great advice, Jon! It's easy to be intimidated by people who are doing something you want to be doing, but you're just starting out and there they are, Masters. It reminds me of how I got over my fear of computers: once I realized that I could unplug them at will, I suddenly became the Master. Even computers know nothing until humans program them. I know not a single thing about programming, but I know where the plug is! My writing is not ready for publication yet, but it's a lot closer because I got over my worries and posted it for critiques.

(psst...Marion Zimmer Bradley's first name only has one R )
Knollmouse 26 Jan 2014 at 23:20  
There is no such thing as failure — It's a learning opportunity.

There is no such thing as a rejection letter — It's permission to seek a more fitting publisher.

There is not such thing as a negative comment — It's someone pointing out an opportunity for improve.

If at first you don't succeed, you are running about average. We have to try, even though the chance of success is small, if we are to succeed.

Great blog! Lve how you misspelled 'off' in the last paragraph to bring home your point about turning off the grammar checker. Brilliant!

— KnollMouse
Card 27 Jan 2014 at 19:07  
I just read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art (highly recommend it for writers and artists in general) - the reason I mention it is because I feel it shares one of its themes with this post: Don't take rejection personally. Instead, keep writing no matter the quality and keep trying to sell what you write.

I would also add that sometimes the best feedback is no feedback because it forces you to ask yourself who you are actually writing for: Yourself or some imagined audience that will probably manifest itself in forms, and at times, when you least expected it? (This can apply to lots of things that involve rejection.)
Jongoff 27 Jan 2014 at 21:05  
Oh, I wish I were that clever. I wrote it on my tablet, no physical keyboard. It's why there are so many mistakes, but thematically, I suppose the mistakes fit with the blog, so... yeah... I um, did it on purpose.
Linda5216 28 Jan 2014 at 23:04  
This blog is a great source of inspiration for me. I've been turned down by some of the best in the business and am just now starting to get requests for rewrites. I consider that a major victory. Thanks for letting us know it's okay to fail.

Irondomain 29 Jan 2014 at 16:15  
I wrote an essay on this, back in the day.
Mjmorgan 29 Jan 2014 at 20:47  
Such refreshing advice. Thank you, Jon!

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