A misstep is not a failure

So as a new year’s resolution I set myself the goal of writing a thousand words every day. I actually started a little before New Year and hit my goal every day right up until the 14th whereupon I just…didn’t.


It wasn’t even a particularly bad day.

I just reached a point in the evening where I needed to go to bed and I hadn’t written anything. This wasn’t even a near miss. If I followed the pattern of every other writing resolution I’ve ever made this would be where one day would turn into a week, and then a month. Self-loathing would have kicked in on missed day three and by the end of that month I’d be ready to drown my sorrows in ice cream and salted fries (goodbye weight loss resolution, I barely knew ye).

And yet this year I woke up on the 15th, churned out 1800 words and felt pretty good about that. It’s still early days of course but I haven’t missed a day since. In fact since the first of January I’ve written a little under 30,000 words. That’s something of a record for me in terms of output and it’s definitely a record in terms of not chucking in the towel when things go wrong.

I have no concrete reason why this year has been different. I wish I could say it was a profound realization that drove me to force myself to keep going, but the realization didn’t turn up until this morning when I suddenly realized that against all probability (and historical record) I hadn’t quit. I think the reason is this: just because I made a mistake doesn’t mean all is lost. I’m a little disappointed I can’t put another X on my Star Wars calendar but it’s hardly anything terrible.

The same reasoning spilled over into the other goal I set for 2017, which is getting 100 rejections by the time the year is up. I got a rejection that was the most formy (I maintain that’s a word despite what my spellchecker and the dictionary tells me) of form letters. I should have been okay with it, after all another notch on the goal post, but for some reason I took that one hard. Yet, despite using up more than my allotted 32 seconds of sulking, the idea that it was merely a misstep and not a failure came back to pull me out of my bad mood. If the manuscript I’m sending out never sells, again, it’s a misstep and not a failure (although it’s a misstep I’d better learn from).

Failure only kicks in properly when I stop trying.

I think this is a good attitude to have to writing, because the road to success is littered with deep pits, rabid bears and bitter opportunists and I’m yet to meet any author who hit it big after rattling off their first manuscript in six weeks (I’m sure they’re out there, I’ve just never met one). There’s a saying in jiu jitsu that a black belt is a white belt that didn’t quit, and I think that’s probably true of writing too.

Like jiu jitsu it comes with a caveat: A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit, trained regularly, improved on their mistakes, was a bit lucky (not to get permanently injured) and worked really hard. So a professional author is someone who worked hard, learned from their mistakes, was a bit lucky (to find the right market/agent/editor at the right time), sought to get better with everything they wrote and still didn’t quit.

Now I just have to remember all that the next I feel like packing a sad.

Writer ice cream.

I’m not saying there won’t be ice cream though, because ic cream.

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