On my fear of becoming a failed writer.

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Three years ago, after I’d had my second short story published in Voiceworks magazine, I was emailed by an editor at a small publishing house saying she wanted to read my novel. I’d advertised this novel, (not the one to be published this year, but a different one I was working on at the time), on my Wheeler Centre profile. So, the editor had a pitch and, with the short story she’d read, a sample of my writing. That’s all any editor really needs to know if they want to take you on.

I got her email on the same night that I got another email saying that my third short story was going to be published in the Sleepers Almanac. I was quite a strange and excitable young man back then, only slightly less so now, and I remember I was eating a burrito in Melbourne Central train station when the emails came through.

I was working full time and would go to the train station after work to have dinner and do my day’s worth of writing. I chose the train station because it was away from my room (not having my bed in sight made me less sleepy) and they had free internet. I like to write with the net on.

After eating my dinner, I opened up the short story I was working on at the time and after ten minutes or so, I rewarded myself by checking my email. Naturally, I couldn’t write for the rest of the night.

My hands were shaking and I was delirious with excitement.

Having been sick with Crohn’s Disease, O.C.D and depression for a number of years, I had very little confidence in myself. Being chronically ill placed me in a constant state of self pity and doubt. I didn’t believe that I could do the same things healthy people could. Because, I guess, for a long time I couldn’t.

When I finally got well, I believed my limitations were to do with me, not because I’d been unwell. Even when my first two short stories had been accepted, although part of me was excited, part of me was convinced that the editors had made a mistake. When I got my marks for my honours degree, I believed the same thing. I had to bring down my achievements in order to match the inferior perception I had of myself.

However, when I got this email from the publisher saying she wanted to see my book, I couldn’t keep my self esteem down. Because I knew it was a pretty rare thing to happen and I had to have something to offer with my writing, otherwise I wouldn’t have received any attention for it.

As happens to people with inferiority complexes who suddenly and magically have reason to feel good about themselves, I became impossibly, unbelievably, embarrassingly arrogant.

I pinned my entire new-found self esteem on this offer. I bit off more than I could chew, overcommitted myself, put too much pressure on myself and couldn’t pull off the book. I finished it after nearly a year of writing, however, it wasn’t accepted.

I didn’t do very well after this. I fell apart, is the truth. It wasn’t only because of the natural feelings being rejected bring up. It was also because I knew I’d done a bad job.

I’d tried my absolute hardest and I’d failed. At this point, I became terrified of two things. One, my writing space would be tainted. And two, I’d become a ‘failed writer’.

From then on, when I wrote, I had to take it in short spurts because my mood would dip quite drastically and I’d start to doubt myself. I made sure to only write when I was enjoying it. This started off not being much at first, however as my next book, the one that comes out this year, started to build I became excited and wrote more and more.

Soon, I became absolutely obsessed with the novel and I started to look forward to coming home to it each night.

When I finished this next book, (which we’ve titled The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, and is about a homosexual boy in the Melbourne orthodox Jewish community)  I felt fantastic, because I knew I’d done a good job. And when it was accepted, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or overexcited. It just made sense.

Having been on the brink of becoming a ‘failed writer’, I now see what it means. It’s someone who stops writing because they never received the validation they thought they deserved from the publishing industry. Their whole reason they write is to get published and when they realise they probably won’t be, they see no more point in writing.

That was never the reason I started writing and won’t be the reason I’ll stop. Death will be.

Since this latest book was accepted, I’ve had the privilege of meeting several other published authors. What I’ve learnt through this, is that, at least in Australia, very few authors live off their writing.

It seems obvious now that I’m writing it. However, I would be lying if I said that a large part of my fantasy of being a writer wasn’t that I would be able to earn a living off it.

Now, that I’m soon to be published, I know the reality. I’ll probably never be able to live off this. But, honestly, that’s cool. It takes the pressure off. And I’ve realised (not to get too sentimental) that all that time I was writing while working on the side, I was already living the lifestyle of a ‘real’ writer. Because, that’s pretty much what it’s like now — and probably will be for a number of years.

448 thoughts on “On my fear of becoming a failed writer.

  1. Thank you for this post…I think it encompasses many things I feel, too, but did not perhaps quite realize it until now. My insecurities come from a different place, not illness but from a certain authority figure from my youth telling me in so many ways that no one wants to hear my stories and I should shut up…but the effect is the same.
    I write because I do, in fact, have good stories and people will, actually, want to hear them. I don’t write because I want to make a lot of money, or even be famous – although fame would be awesome because it would mean a lot of people read and liked my books. But I write because my stories need to exist somewhere besides my head and I love them.
    Thanks for helping me to remember exactly that.

  2. I write because I have ideas in my mind and I try and share them so others can touch what I touched. That said, I have many tales I’ve been unable to find the words for over time. I am glad to hear when that happened with your first book, you continued and managed to find the needed words for the second book. May you become secure enough as a writer, but never stop learning how to be secure as a person on the way.

  3. I could really feel how heart felt this blog was to you as I read it and what an inspiration it is to all writers. For me, writing is a hobby which I love to do when ever I can and if I ever do get paid for any of it, then that would be a huge bonus.

  4. A good confession I must say :) Once an artist told me that “it doesn’t matter what you do for a living because it is always secondary to being an artist”. Congratulations on your new novel and hang on to that feeling of goodness, it is what makes you real. Thank you :)

  5. I think the only sign of a failed writer is the one that stops writing. I don’t write to be published but to release the rolling waves of words that never cease in my mind.

    Never stop writing.
    Ever!

  6. “Death Will Be.” I just love that. That’s like the title of a short story right there. Anyhow, it’s been a while since anything from you has come thru my Reader and I was thrilled to see this. It didn’t disappoint for a second. Yes, writer’s can look forward to making tens of dollars and then writing a good budget. You’re great Eli. Happy Purim!
    Stephanie

  7. Here in the US, it is the same: very few writers can actually support themselves with their writing. But iI have sold enough short stories to know I can write well, that someone is willing to pay a small amount for my ramblings. And in the end, that is enough.

  8. Writing? Of all the trades, it’s the easier one to fail, anyway. So, just sit and continue writing, you have nothing to loose, just a few blank pages, but before you throw them, make sure you haven’t throw the baby -(your dream would be-writer)-with the water of the bath. Paolo Cocelo wrote the Alchemist, 13 years ago, a million books best-seller now, the story, it starts with a dream , so believe in your dream, that’s all.

  9. This is one of the most inspirational posts I’ve read in a while. I’ve been browsing the net for months as of late, to find something that might give me a little push toward achieving my goals as a writer and this is definitely it. I am always so down and out when I received some form of rejection when it comes to my writing, particularly if I believe I’ve done alright. It does make you feel as though your dreams of being published are null and void.

    I feel much better now, after reading this — thank you so much for sharing.

  10. CONGRATULATIONS. The plot of the story seems to be very interesting.
    And, THANKS. Recently I’ve been browsing and reading different blogs that could inspire me into become a confident writer, and this post is one of the best. I don’t know what anybody else learned, but what I learned is to never fall apart due to the rejections and keep writing ’till I die’.
    P.S: Please let me know when the book is getting published. I’ve never read a book of the sort and I am really looking forward to it.

  11. When I kept writing but no one reads them I just get really discouraged and I’d lose my motivation to write. I forgot that the point of me writing is because I enjoy writing! It’s my outlet of self-expression. So keep writing I will, even if no one but I read.

  12. Congratulations! And really well written! Feel the same way about design (I’m an architecture student)…I guess we all have our highs and lows… we just need to find a way to strike that balance! :)

  13. At the risk of being tremendously redundant, good for you. The bright side of experiencing humiliation and depression is the clarity in which you will write about it in future books :) Keep up the good work.

  14. 439 responses. I’m sure I’ve got nothing new to add. I don’t write novels, I write articles, and whenever one has been published I felt it was a fluke and I couldn’t pull it off again.
    Even established writers (once established) have occasionally had their manuscripts rejected. Keep on keeping on, Eli.

  15. I’m really loving the theme/design of your site. Do you
    ever run into any web browser compatibility problems? A few of my blog visitors have
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    but looks great in Safari. Do you have any suggestions to help fix this issue?

  16. Inspiring. I’d still have to look for my own “train station” to start with at least one sentence. Being a working mother, I’ve just become too “practical and normal” that every free time I could get would be spent on just a cup of coffee and a longing to write something. I just don’t know where to start…

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