crossing a milestone by 'failing forward'

crossing a milestone by 'failing forward'

I started work on my current WIP in January 2019. I jotted down ideas in general along with a plot outline and even wrote a bit I suppose, until a phone call from a family member in February completely derailed me and took me away from the WIP for several months. Thereafter, my engagement with my WIP was a vividly start-stop affair, my opinion of my work as ambivalent as a pendulum swinging from one end to the other, incessantly.

I don't recall when I penned the first words of the novel, but by May this year, I had written over 40,000 words.

On October 2, I crossed 70,000 words.

On October 22, I crossed 80,000 words.

Yesterday, on December 12, I crossed 100,000 words.

I reckon I have gone past two-thirds of the novel. Perhaps another 50,000 words should wrap it up. At my current speed, which is about 3,000 words per week on average, it will take me another 3-4 months to finish this work. It is a terrifying thought.

In the current self-publishing world, there are authors who write 100,000 words in a matter of a fortnight or so. There are people who start from scratch and rake in a six-digits-a-year income through their writing. 'Rapid release', the practice of publishing one book every 1-3 months, has been the latest strategy for maximising sales.

Based on the above benchmarks, it feels as if I'd need ten of me to achieve the kind of goals I want to achieve in the timeframe I have in mind, even though my goals are pretty modest for the time being.

Sometime last week, I was moaning to my husband, KrA, that yet another year has almost passed and I have nothing to show for it. He promptly reminded me of the 90,000-word milestone I had crossed sometime in the recent past.

That's when it occurred to me that I can pat myself on the back for crossing my word count milestones instead of beating myself up for taking so long to do so. The paths to success are many. As Becca Syme says in 'Dear Writer, You Need To Quit', we always need to question the premise. Who said rapid releases or a book-a-month publishing schedule are the only ways to make a living out of writing? What matters more is finding the pace at which I can work without losing my family or my sanity, because I value all three equally, and these are pretty much the only things I value in my life right now.

I love what Dean Wesley Smith wrote as a comment in one his latest blog posts. A commenter had asked him how to cope with failure to meet a goal. And DWS offered a brilliant response.

"Set a goal, fail, but get stuff done, which means you fail forward. Any goal that drives you forward is a win.
"One thing that most writers never think of is that setting a goal and hitting it is a rare thing in publishing and writing. Very rare, actually.
"You want to understand writing, play golf. Golf is a series of missed shots. Sometimes you miss it three feet sideways and everyone applauds because only missing by three feet looks great. Other times, the ball goes clear off the course. But EVERY shot in golf is a miss of one form or another. The person who misses the least wins. Writing is the same way. Perfection does not exist in writing. Just string your misses together for a career."

So, I crossed my 100,000-word milestone by failing forward 99% of the time and meeting or exceeding my word count goal only 1% of the time in these past two years. Wow! I need a moment to let that sink in for me. Because it is the truth, and it is also the truth that when we reach a goal, we forget how hard it truly was and how much of it was mostly a bumbling-and-stumbling-along rather than a walk in the park.

Other than life, a big issue that often sidetracks me from my WIP is my belief, or lack thereof, in my work. There are days I absolutely love my story, the characters, the plot, how it is all unfolding, the way the story meanders in the course of the writing and unfurls in ways I wouldn't have anticipated. And then there are times when I fear I'm simply mistaking fool's gold for the real deal.

As DWS would say, this kind of thinking is 'critical voice' at its most expressive. And I swear I am the most self-critical person on earth I know. You can tell that from the simple fact that it takes me so much effort to acknowledge my achievement in crossing a 100,000-word milestone. Well, awareness is the first step towards change.

My latest shot in the arm came from what Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote in her blog this week. She tells the story of how a classic holiday movie, It's a Wonderful Life, is based on a self-published short story, which the author Philip Van Doren Stern could not sell, and so he made it into a holiday card and sent it to his friends and acquaintances, including his Hollywood agent, who sold the story to someone, who sold the movie rights to someone else, who ended up making the movie.

"Even in the tight-as-tight-could-be old days of gatekeepers and people who looked down from on high at self-publishing, some writers still believed in their work. Rather than looking for validation, Stern believed enough in his story to make a gift of it.
"And that gift gave back on a rather amazing level.
"When I tell writers that they need to believe in themselves and their work, this is what I mean. Because writers who believe in their work never give up on it. And when you believe in yourself and your work, you make things happen, rather than let them happen to you."

So, whatever my pace of writing may be, whatever life may throw at me, I will continue to believe in my WIP and it will be a novel in my hands and in yours in 2021.

Image Attribution: Photo by Christine Keller on Unsplash