Failing Upwards or What Is Success Anyway?

This is a story with a twist you’ll never expect. Or it’s one without the conventional happy ending. In fact it’s not the end at all. It’s the beginning and the middle and the end, all at once. It’s about how I’m teaching myself to cope with “failure” or rejection, and maybe this article will help you also.

I want to say here that it is a privilege and an honour to go on submission. That I am grateful to all the hardworking people who have read/given feedback on my novel in the last 18months, especially editorial teams and my agency. The last 18months are the most extreme and odd I have faced in my lifetime. I expect they are for most of us. To continue to work, to look at art and how to bring it to people, is such an amazing thing. I am grateful. Always.

Here is how I am choosing to look at things, after a few days of reflection and discussions off/online. Maybe it’ll help you, maybe it won’t. I hope it does.

In my professional life, we talk a lot about having a growth mindset and how to redefine or own the narratives we tell ourselves and others. I know, I know. I pulled that face too. But bear with me.

Having a growth mindset, means learning all the time – when things go right and when they go wrong. Nothing is a failure, nothing is a mistake, they are all learning opportunities, reflecting and looking forward. Here is what I have learned:

  1. You cannot control who else is submitting and what they are submitting.
  2. You cannot control an unpredictable market or audience.
  3. You cannot control the political, social and economic environment

All of this impacts whether or not your book ends up on a shelf somewhere but none of this means we shouldn’t create and write and try anyway.

Instead, it’s about thinking about my own narrative about success and writing. Here’s what I am telling myself:

  1. Not to define success solely by the ability to tell people they can buy my book somewhere. This is mismanaging my own expectations massively and doing myself a disservice.
  2. Enjoy the journey: Role-modelling for my kids is so important. That it’s good to have hopes and dreams but it’s also important to enjoy the journey because you can only control some of that.

And finally, the biggest part, and the most important is, how do you carry on when things aren’t going to plan. Here’s what I have decided, here is what I can control, what I am choosing to control:

  1. How well I write. The quality of my writing. How much I push myself harder, to get the words on the page as close as possible to the image in my head. I can learn and read and study and get feedback as much or as little as I like. But to know I’ve given it my all, is a comfort and a success in and of itself.
  2. That perfection is not a goal. Perfect doesn’t exist. Quality work operates in a continuum. How well I write now is based on how much I’ve learned. How well I write in 5 years will change again.To take pleasure in the preciseness of the written word at the time I create it.
  3. To enjoy writing what I love. With the themes that are important to me. Expressing myself in the best and only way, sometimes, that I know how to. I have a voice, I will use it. No one else can write the way I can. Whether it’s good or bad is irrelevant. It just is and it won’t exist unless I write it

Maybe I will get published, maybe in a month or a year or ten years from now, I’ll post and say hey, here’s my book, go buy it. Or maybe I won’t. But I know that I shouldn’t let that stop me writing. So I won’t. I hope it doesn’t stop you.

Thank you, for reading this post.

Ans also to all my lovely beta readers, to the people on twitter who have joined in with my discussion, who have sent supportive messages, my friends and family and to my lovely agent who has hand held in the best way and just gets me more than anyone has in a very long time.

I’m not giving up, I learning how to fail up.

Why Bother

**Warning – Spoiler Alert – you may want to read my piece The Wind In the Leaves first**

On bad days – it’s hard to do anything, much less write. I wonder why I’m bothering, I tell myself I’m a terrible writer and that nothing will come of this ridiculous endeavour. When the rejection bus seems to stop by every week, though I’m in good company, it can chip away at a writer’s fragile self confidence. But every so often you get an acceptance! Or your piece is published! And that’s kind of what I wanted I to talk about today and what to remember on the bad days.

I’ve been asked quite a lot recently where I get my ideas from, how I write. And a lot of the time I just have NO IDEA how to answer that because often the answer would be something like “I…er…well, like I watched a music video…and er yeah there was a lyric…and yeah it made me feel all funny.” Which let’s face it does sound quite bizarre.

But today I had a piece published on Moonchild Magazine, called The Wind In The Leaves. It’s my most personal piece and I wanted to have the opportunity to explain a bit about why I wrote it and how it came to be published.  SPOILER ALERT…..don’t read on unless you want to know what happens….

So the idea with piece was that a woman, struck down by a mysterious virus sweeping the globe, awakes from a coma, healed, but with an unexpected result. Where everyone else in the world is deaf, she can hear.

The idea for the piece came about because I wanted to write something to show how I feel as a “deaf” person in a hearing world. I wear hearing aids, which give me about 85% hearing, without them I only have 45% hearing. Without them I couldn’t work, socialise, hear my kids, my family and friends, my music. I don’t sign either. I sit in a funny limbo land because I’m not hearing – I miss much more than people realise – and I’m not Deaf-with-a-capital-D.

It’s oddly isolating. I know people do their best to help me fit in, but I can’t listen to podcasts because you can’t lipread invisible people. Same goes for the radio. It’s quite hard when you’re trying to write because a lot of stuff is often on podcasts or the radio – mostly radio 4. But there are no transcripts or subtitles*. So I miss out. And the same for video. I need subtitles all the time – I don’t watch TV without them. I miss so much otherwise. And in case you’d not noticed, video is pretty hot online.** But equally because I don’t sign I miss things aimed purely at a signing/deaf audience. I don’t fit anywhere.

So anyway. I wanted to write something to show that feeling of being on the outside of…of everything. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not isolated, I’m not sad about it. I just realised that it’s probably not a perspective many people have. Or maybe they do, I don’t know. But I also wanted a chance to flip our able-istic world around(everything in society is geared towards able people, they’re perceived as the “norm”) So I chose to write a piece where being deaf was the norm – and sound was a radical new concept.

Except my challenge was to write the piece without mentioning or limiting the use of any words to do with sound, noise or hearing. How do you describe sound to someone who has never heard? What’s a noise? What does it feel like in your head? In your ears?  When I listen to music or read stories I often get goosebumps or cry, I have a very physical reaction to something. Where am I hearing it? My head? My heart? My ears? Where does the sound, the energy go?

So back to the title of this piece. Why bother. I wrote the piece and it just was so bloody hard to get across everything – the plot, the feeling, the vision I had for the opening of the shadow of leaves looking like a hand. I cut so much – and re-added it – and cut it again. I sent it to 5 or 6 beta readers most of whom said that it was beautiful but they didn’t have a clue what it was about or what I meant.  I re-wrote and edited it probably 10-12 times. I normally only do 2 or 3 drafts. I was so determined to nail this and it was so personal and so hard.

And when I did at last decide it was “done enough” and submitted it out, I got a lot of instant rejections. I won’t lie, I massively doubted myself. It was only the 4th flash fiction piece I’d written. WTF did I know about it anyway.  I knew I needed to toughen up and maybe just accept it would never find a home and that would be okay.  There would be other pieces. But I’m so bloody competitive so I couldn’t do that!

I kept an eye on new zines and journals whilst I wrote and submitted other pieces. And then I found Moonchild Magazine because @standondog tweeted he had a piece accepted by them. From the moment I read their website and first issue I knew that this was it – this could be the perfect home for my piece. I submitted and was so, so thrilled to be accepted for publication in their 2nd issue. So you know, happy ending!

So I guess what I’m saying is that on the bad days, when you/I think “why are we bothering?” when it would be so easy to give up – DON’T. Have faith. Believe in your unique perspective. Keep paring away at that piece, let the essence shine through. Keep the idea percolating in your head, the words will come to you. And also, read every literary mag you come across because that’s the only way you’ll find your perfect match.

TL;DR Provide transcripts and subtitles, don’t give up on piece, keep editing and research the shit out of literary journals and magazines, you’ll find the right one!

*It’s not just deaf/hard of hearing people that like subtitles/transcripts. It benefits people with a range of disabilities including dyslexia and Aspergers/Autism. So by providing them you’re helping many, many more people than you might realise.

**FYI if you upload a video to Youtube it automatically provides closed captions and you can go in and edit them to make sure they’re accurate. If you put videos on youtube, it would be awesome if you did this.

A New Home

Hi.

Wow.  I am totally supposed to be doing online grocery shopping instead of setting this up.

So, I used to blog a fair bit. You can find that blog here. But as you’ll notice, it’s very neglected. I’ve been a bit busy in the last couple of years – having kids mostly. I did a bit of lifestyle blogging and a bit of mummy blogging.

But neither of them are really for me – guess I’m not so good at hustling for free stuff, or writing funny posts. Well, I wrote a few funny posts – this one, and this one. Oh and this one too. I wrote about books and music and other things too, you’ll see over there.

But wait, don’t go over there yet, sorry! Stay here. On this blog.

This blog is for my writing.  Well, to clarify, my fiction writing.  Feel free to check out my flash fiction pieces, info about my novel and if you really want to know more about me, my bio. Also I plan to do a lot of supporting other writers on here. Because that’s fun.

So hi, I’m Becky, this is my new blog. Thanks for stopping by.

Bx