Sunday 17 March 2013

Writing Fail

Writing Fial Fail

Before we start let's get one thing straight. This isn't an upbeat motivational piece about writing. I hate that shit. The can-do, write 1000 words a day, revise-revise-revise, and you will triumph mentality is the flipside of the coin that I'm trying to stamp on here.

Here's the thing.

You will notice this pyramid (in common with most others) is pointy.

Consider how little room there is to stand at the top. Consider if you and a bazillion other people all tried to go up it at once... my advice would be rather than obsessing about how much you might enjoy the view from the top it would be much better to decide just how much you enjoy climbing pyramids. If you think you'd get a buzz out of the climb, and that the view from pretty much any of the steps would be pretty cool... well then, go for it!

This rather over-stretched metaphor is my response to the many people (some I know quite well) who consider themselves writing failures because they only [enter your success here]. I've listened as fine writers self-flaggelate because they "only" managed [insert success story here]. And I'm sat there thinking... you wrote a frikken book! That's more than most people manage. Then you got an agent and sold the frikken book to a publisher... then you got paid and the book was on shelves from New York to London... and a good number of people gave this book all five sparkling stars and sang its praises... and here you are tearing chunks out of yourself because not _everyone_ loved it... because it 'only' sold thousands... because Writer X sold more, got talked about more, won some silly prize?

And let me stress - I am _not_ Mr Upbeat. I'm not Mr Positivity. I'm just a realist. You can't leap from one side of the Grand Canyon and beat yourself up for not reaching the other side. The leap's the thing!

You don't fail at writing. There's only win.

Failure's not an option. Not because of some macho WIN WIN WIN BS, but simply because it's not on the option list. When I sing in the shower failure isn't an option either, no matter how badly I sing!


People keep asking me for tips for aspiring writers. Is there even such a thing? Start typing... you're a writer. There's no aspiration required.

Or are they aspiring to be a New York Times bestseller? Hell, my advice then is: don't. It's like aspiring to win the lottery. Work hard, buy your ticket. Have fun with the show where the numbers are called. Move on.

I'm on that pyramid. There are people who have been a hundred times more successful than me. There are people who have been a hundred times less successful. I wouldn't count myself a failure at writing if I'd never done more than touch the first step.

For years I wrote for a shifting audience of five or ten people on a writing group. If that was all I ever did I would not have considered my time wasted, any more than I consider the time I spent blowing shit up on the Xbox wasted, or reading a book, or playing a game.

The biggest writing triumphs I've ever had were achieved long before I was published. I wrote things that when I read them back made me laugh and made me cry. Later I wrote things that made other people laugh or cry (in the right places even). That act of sharing, of putting the objects of my imagination into someone else's head with enough clarity and power to evoke strong emotion... that right there is the best writing will ever offer you. And doing it to ten people or ten thousand people is no more gratifying that doing it once - to one person - the first time.

So yes - my advice to aspiring writers could be and has been a check list of good practices, but the real advice is to do it because you enjoy it and to enjoy the hell out of it. And most of all:

i) Never let it be a chore.

ii) If you must measure your success... do it with metrics that actually matter.

iii) Forget about failing... it's not that sort of game.


  1. Is this addressed to me? :)

    1. Methinks I told you something similar, but hell yeah to all of this ... off to tweet it.

    2. The first two novels of yours are fantastic, really looking forward to the next - I have it pre-ordered. I have no idea what your sales are like but I have already recommended you to friends, I hope they enjoy the books as much as I did so I have someone to talk about them with! Novels get so much more interesting when you can talk about them with friends and see how they saw everything that happens.

  2. This. This is the heart of it (I think).

    Success is getting the story written in the first place. A reason for celebration is if you manage to touch a single person through the stuff you wrote. Everything else is just an add-on (nice or ugly, I guess, but secondary).

    Except, you put it more eloquently than I've ever read on the subject.

  3. I've always thought the secret to a fulfilling life is to enjoy the climb rather than obsessing about the view from the pinnacle. There will be always be someone with more success by one measure or another. Fretting about it is guaranteed to propagate thoughts of failure. The hermit living on the hill with the goat, he understands this. He wants for nothing and hence he is content.

    If I only ever sell my books to a modest audience, meet some famous authors, and experience the pleasure of seeing something I wrote on a shelf in Waterstones, I'll still be happy with my contribution to the genre. It's the realisation of a dream - and that's enough for me. Plenty of other dreams to chase, too!

  4. Thank you. I really like this article, and the side of the coin you're trying to stamp here, because you're right. I'm sure the view from the top is nice. I bet it's grand. But the view from the bottom is just as cool because you're on the freaking pyramid - even if only for now, even if you pack up and go home later, you were on the pyramid and no one can take that away from you.

    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Thank you. I really like this article, and the side of the coin you're trying to stamp here, because you're right. I'm sure the view from the top is nice. I bet it's grand. But the view from the bottom is just as cool because you're on the freaking pyramid - even if only for now, even if you pack up and go home later, you were on the pyramid and no one can take that away from you.

    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing it. (Sorry if this comes through twice; the internet is acting up on me).

  6. Well said! *dances on the pyramid*

  7. I'm sorry sir, did you see the sign?

    You're not allowed to stand on the pyramid

  8. Yay, you! :) I like this. I like it very much.

  9. Now I have Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song" stuck in my head. Thanks.

  10. Love this post - it applies beyond writing, really to lots and lots of creative fields. Instead of obsession on the destination, it helps to be reminded that we really should take the time to enjoy the creative journey -- and let it take us wherever it may. Thank you for this.

  11. Excellent post. Currently, I'm at the base of the pyramid, planning my ascent. 😊

  12. Really like this. I think the same when I watch the Olympics - someone will be disappointed they got only a bronze medal, or they came in fifth, and I want to say, "You're one of the best athletes in the world! Did you do all that training and focus so hard and come this far for a medal? If you did your personal best, that's the most you could do. And if you didn't, you still got up before the world and tried and are still the best from your country."

    Of course, that doesn't keep me from doing it, too, so thanks for the reminder!

    P.S. A friend from Egypt said you can bribe the guards at night and climb right up to the top. :-)

  13. Just having finished a novel puts you more than halfway up that pyramid, I think. You have no idea how many people WANT to get that far and never do.

  14. Really good post, I actually think that is way more motivational than the usual advice I see listed online.

  15. God, I love you, Mr. Lawrence.

  16. Failure is to be a writer who doesn't produce.
    Failure is to be a writer who is not able to learn.
    Failure is not being willing to challenge yourself.
    Failure is writing for what you think others like rather than what you like.
    Failure is giving up because some people don't get it or care.

  17. This is an evergreen post, Mark :)

  18. Short, simple, true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mark. I really enjoyed this post. It says a lot about who you are as a person. I'm happy for your accomplishments, before and after your 'success'.

  19. Pure awesomeness, Mark. Words to write by indeed!

  20. I've followed this innovative way of thinking for over 25 years. Have enjoyed each journey way more than being parked in front of a television.

  21. Thank you. This puts a lot into a much better perspective. I will keep it all in mind.

  22. Excellent advice! It certainly put things into perspective for me.

  23. I find this comforting. I’m in the self-flagellation stage of finishing my next novel. It’s not a happy place. As soon as I publish it, I’m going for a hike to get some perspective. I think I’ll try sitting down somewhere up that pyramid to take in the view, rather than continuing to stare at that pointy top.