Opportunities, Potential, and Failure

I’m winging today’s post. It’s due tomorrow and I really didn’t have a direction to head (did I mention I lost my blog ‘plan’ for the year–there will be a lot of winging it in the next couple of months). So today, I wanted to talk about opportunity, our own potential, and reframing failure.

What do all of those things have to do with writing? So very much.

Whether you write for the love and fun of it, for yourself, for a small base of fans, for your dog, or for millions of avid readers, we are all engaged in a delicate balance of these three elements. Let’s take a look at them from a writerly perspective.

Opportunities

As a writer, or artist of any sort, when you decide to commit to your craft for whatever end result, you should look at ways to not just get those words in, but to improve them, challenge your writing’s boundaries, and explore different dimensions. Examples of creating and pursuing opportunities include:

  1. Submitting your work to journals, newsletters, publishers, or any other outside source for consideration.
  2. Signing up for classes, workshops, critique groups, retreats and conferences
  3. Writing outside of your genre or comfort zone as an exploration (you can do this concurrently with the two suggestions above)
  4. Sign up to give talks, open mic nights, teach a class (adult, young adult, children) about what you do know that would be helpful for other writers/artists.

The key to opportunity is to not limit yourself by your own doubt. You may see a dozen different submission calls, or invitations to teach or whatever, but if you’re constantly thinking your work won’t be good enough, your experience not deep enough, then you won’t ever put yourself out there. And the fact is, opportunities are rarely about stumbling into the ‘right place/right time’, they are usually more about putting yourself in the right place and the right time (creating and fostering the glints of opportunity you do find). So don’t limit your potential with self doubt. You never know what you’re capable of until you step up and try. That leads us to:

Potential

I’ll tell you the only real thing I know about human potential. It’s limitless.

Often times we are held back by our beliefs, our history, our trauma and our fears. Any thing ever in our life that told us we were not good enough, undeserving, or powerless, seeps in and builds little walls inside our brain. And we often think that once we reach those walls, that we are at the end of our capabilities. Reframing how you think about your potential is the key to opening up new roads. How do you reframe? Well, I guess first you have to set your sights on something without killing it.

How often do we tell ourselves, “I can’t do that”, “That’s impossible”, “That won’t work” even before we let ourselves think through the logistics? Probably a lot. Now–I’m not saying that EVERYTHING is possible. We can’t time travel (yet) and change mistakes from our past (why would you want to?). We can’t/shouldn’t aim for goals that hurt or destroy others. I’m saying in the field of your writing, you have no idea what you’re capable of.

So find out what drives you, what you want, what you dream of and write it all down (you’re a writer after all). Follow it up with small and manageable goals that move you forward, a little each day. This is the way we get over those walls. By building a ladder, one rung at a time, by destroying the wall, one brick at a time. Stay constant, stay consistent. And remember that self-doubt is an insult to your potential. If you want something, if you’re willing to work for it, then you deserve it and are capable of having it.

Well, that little pep talk was kind of exhausting let’s move on to my favorite of the three.

Failure

Failure! Fuck yes. Failure is my favorite and I’ll tell you why. Because failure means you were reaching for something better, something impossible, something unlikely and unsure. Failure means you stepped past your line of ‘acceptable risk’ and went rogue. Failure means you believed in something strongly enough to leap over that wall blocking your way. Failure is never a failure.

I’m already 102 submissions into my 100 rejections in a year challenge. Before I started this challenge, every rejection letter I got was a tiny little knife in the heart. A potential dream killer, a step closer to hanging up my pen and getting a real job. But you come to learn a few things:

  1. Failure is rarely fatal. (Ok–there is a disclaimer that you can totally fail something and end up killing yourself, so let’s not get into any discussions of Evil-Knievel stunts) Getting a rejection letter, even the worst and harshest one imaginable, will not kill you. But it may just teach you something.
  2. Failure teaches us. Failures aren’t setbacks as long as we learn something from them. Look I’ve had this kooky little story that I love, rejected like 40 times. Which tells me that even though I love it, there is something missing or needing cleaned up about it. I’m learning what makes a better story every time I write and send out a ‘less-good’ story. I learn that I can tweak and re-read and edit and cut out what doesn’t work. I learn to send it to the right markets. I learn to follow the submission guidelines. I learn that maybe my freak-flag is too much for some. Maybe it’s not enough for others.
  3. Repeated failure is a lesson book that you can take with you. In writing, especially, you learn what works and what does not. In life it is the same. And we gain these lessons and this experience from exploring and creating the opportunities for ourselves.

And just like that, I brought it full circle. Opportunity, Potential, Failure–rinse and repeat.

Go out there today and find or make an opportunity. Submit someplace new. Query an agent. Finish that novel. Get through that hard scene. None of these things need to be pretty or perfect. But they do need to get done.

Like this blog post.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?