I hesitated to write this blog post. There were a number of reasons I didn’t want to write it. Part of me felt that it would be arrogant, or that it might come off as preachy. That I might be wrong. It involves some vulnerability, and it involves some risk. But in the end, it is true, and I felt called to do it. So here goes.
I don’t know any writer on the way up that hasn’t dealt with jealousy on some level. That hasn’t dealt with feelings of complete inadequacy, with the feeling that life was unfair. With the feeling that writers who broke out big did so unethically, or because of who they happened to know, or because of other people’s bad taste. I’m sure there are some of them: those who never really had to deal with rejection because their first novel was snapped up right away, and those genuinely good souls who are just virtuous enough to celebrate with others as much as they would for themselves. I wonder which of those two is rarer? I have no idea, but I dearly wish that I were one or the other of them.
We’re not supposed to talk about those feelings. And it’s GOOD that we’re not supposed to. Those feelings may be inevitable, but they are made much, much worse when we speak from them or act upon them. We’re supposed to say success isn’t pie and that someone else’s success doesn’t mean your failure. Despite the fact that in some cases (such as competing for anthology slots) that’s exactly what it does mean. But it doesn’t matter. Ethically, morally, we should be glad for the success of others. Celebrate them. Lift them up.
I have failed at fighting these feelings a lot. I’ve struggled against them hard. I know I’ve done better than some and I know I’ve done worse than many. I won’t even speculate about “most” because honestly I have no damned idea how “most” people do. My failure is inexcusable. But it’s not unforgivable. Because that’s the nature of forgiveness: the inexcusable is what forgiveness is for.
Last week, I got some news. It has the potential to be utterly life-changing news. And it also has the potential to be nothing more than a high-level rejection. It’s good — unbelievably good — that I’ve risen this high. But I still have potential to fall all the way back down to where I’ll have to start all over again.
And talking about this? It makes me afraid. It makes me afraid because of stupid reasons, like superstition. If I talk about this, it won’t happen. Because of self-centered reasons. There are people out there who will be glad to see me fail. Because of paranoid reasons. There are people out there who might figure out how to sabotage me. And honestly? For moral reasons: Karma or God knows that I haven’t supported others like I should have. I deserve to fail.
But here’s the thing: I do deserve to fail. That’s not the end of it, though: as much and as little as I deserve to succeed, I deserve to fail. Because whether I succeed in this or fail in this, it really isn’t about deserving it. No one in this business deserves a career, deserves an award, deserves a publication. They get those things, or not. One of the pieces of advice that I value most highly , I got from the writer S.M. Stirling at DragonCon 2018. He said, “Most authors have no idea how they got where they are, and the role chance played in getting there.” I believe he is correct on this.
But if there’s been something I’ve appreciated as I’ve hacked my way up the great mountain of publication, it’s been those willing to talk about their failures, and what it’s done to them. In a sense, this blog post is about joining them, in the hopes that I will be helpful to others, as they have been helpful to me. One of those who deserves special mention is Steven Barnes, because of some recent posts on failure and success. Something he posted, and which I wish I could find now, but I can’t, talked about a recent failure of his: for a brief moment, he believed some lies. That he wasn’t good enough. That people were yanking him around just for giggles. And then he had to consciously remember who he was, what he had done, and what was important. And do the next good thing in front of him as a father, a husband, and as a writer.
Now that is amazing, for two reasons: one, because it’s the testimony of a man who has not, even through the kind of success I would (not really!) kill for, lost sight of what is truly important. Secondly, despite that success, he admits that he has not become immune to failure and the bad feelings it brings. He can DEAL with them, but he isn’t IMMUNE to them.
Right now, I am doing everything I know how to for this opportunity to succeed. And right now, there’s just nothing I can do except 1) Wait and find other good things to do, and b) pray like crazy and ask others to do so for me. I’m praying for this like I’ve prayed for nothing else in my life except for my marriage and my children. I want it very, very badly.
Now, I know exactly what the right thing to say is. The right attitude to have. The right thing to say is very old: it’s in the oldest book of the Bible. It’s what Job said: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
You know, it’s going to be devastating if I don’t get this. But so what? Job was devastated too. And he had far more reason to be.
But this is where I stake my faith. But not, and this must be clearly understood, upon whether I get good news or not. No, I stake my faith on the Lord, who promises that all things work out for good for those who love Him. But I’m still going to pray for what I want, and trust that eventually, that I will receive, that I will find, and that the door will be opened. This is where I pray and what I pray for. I know a lot of people would like to see me succeed. There may be some who would like to see me fail. Oh, well. If that’s what you find pleasure in, then I’m afraid I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a truly awful thing enjoy.
I suppose I’m a little afraid of what people’s reactions will be to say that I’m praying for this. Will they say, “If you get good news, will you say it’s because you prayed?” Hey, I don’t know how prayer “works.” I’ll be too busy being happy about it t even ask that question. Will people say, “Are you trying to butter God up?” No. At least I really hope not. God isn’t, in my experience, very butterable, although if you think that would work, I think you have a weird view of God. I’m also, I suppose, afraid that as much as I’m trying to do what’s right, I might still be wrong.
No, I’m staking my faith on just saying this. Because I can’t really lose: this victory is now won. This is the moment where I can say, before I know the outcome, that I trust (as best I can) God with it. If I get this, I will be overjoyed at the blessing, and God is glorified. It means I really enter the conversation that is literature, and on a whole new level, and I am blessed.
And if I don’t get it? Well then, though it will hurt like poison, then I have at least had this conversation. And that’s a different blessing. And I learned just a couple of days ago that more people are listening to it than I sometimes think possible. And along with John Milton, who is damned good company for a writer, I remember they also serve who only stand and wait. I may not be able to speak with much grace if that happens. I’ll be badly hurt. But I will have done this, ad majorem gloriam Dei. That’s what’s really important, and what’s right, even if I might forget it for a time. I pray that I will not, and that God gives me the grace be His witness in success and in failure.