Sunday, April 19, 2009

Freedom To Fail

In his short-story collection Learning To Kill, crime writer Ed McBain talks about working for a literary agent named Scott Meredith and what happened the first time McBain showed him some of his own work:

As was our usual working routine, [Scott and I] discussed responses to the various letters from our clients, and he handed me the stack of manuscripts we’d received from them that day, and then he said, “Now your stories,” and slid my precious tales from where he had them neatly stacked on one side of his desk.

“This one, burn,” he said, and moved it aside, and picked up another one, and said, “This one, too,” and placed it on top of the first one, and then picked up the third story.

“This one, I think I can salvage,” he said. “I’ll tell you how to rewrite it,” and moved it aside into what I hoped would become a growing pile.

“This one, I think I can sell,” he said. My heart leaped. I looked at the title. It was called “Welcome, Martians.”

“This one, burn,” he said.

“This one …”

Of the dozen or so stories I’d showed him, only “Welcome, Martians” met with his approval.
McBain goes on to talk about the thrill of earning of quarter cent per word and thus becoming a paid author, but we ought not to brush on by the casualties, the ten literary corpses laid to rest on Meredith’s desk.

When it comes to writing, all of us want to be successful. We don’t mind studying the greats. We don’t mind filling a set quota of words every day. We don’t mind stuffing envelopes, reading the rejection letters, finding new markets and firing our manuscripts back out into the void. But we don’t want to fail. We don’t want any of our efforts to be non-starters, duds, completely kaput. And the problem is that if McBain’s experience is at all representative, quite a few of them will be.

Yes, you need to believe in your work, to sweat over it and fight for it. You also need to give yourself the freedom to fail. None of us are God; we don’t always get it right. We’re going to write ill-conceived and poorly executed narratives from time to time. Don’t let it discourage you. Let yourself take the occasional (or more-than-occasional) tumble. Let yourself bust up your knees and bloody your nose. Just make sure you get back up again, grab hold of the handlebars and put your foot to the pedal.

(Picture: CC 2009 by


B. Nagel said...

Thanks for the encouragement on a dreary rainy Sunday.

This last series of posts has been like watching someone grow up through looking at pictures of their surroundings taken at different stages of the process. Kind of neat to imagine the story/ies you're writing.

But that's just my brain.

Loren Eaton said...

This last series of posts has been like watching someone grow up through looking at pictures of their surroundings taken at different stages of the process.Alas, my writerly maturity seems to be progressing rather slowly. Which is suppose is how it goes. Also, I see a fair number of people fall by the wayside when things get tough. I hope these little posts prop them up a bit. I really am convinced that a lot of successful writing is persperation.

Yokota Fritz said...

Thanks for the photo use and attribution. And your use of this photo led me to a fascinating blog.

Loren Eaton said...

Glad you liked it! Did I site everything okay? Sometimes the finer points of Creative Commons usage escape me.

Yokota Fritz said...

It's just fine :-)

Loren Eaton said...

Oh, good.