What’s the worst that could happen?

rainy-window

It’s Sunday. I’m feeling sad, nostalgic, as I tend to do on Sundays (through strangely, haven’t in a long time…) I’m not stressed, which is a major change – I’ve been behind on work for going on two years, but I stopped accepting clients until I can catch up and things are starting to become manageable again.

The strange thing is, I’ve been working on my novels – not actually writing, but designing covers and outlining chapters – which should make me excited, energetic, ecstatic…. even manic, which could be why the insomnia came on strong last night. But not happy. Why should finally giving myself time to work on my own writing make me depressed?

My guess it’s the fear of failure.

Publishing novels is risky. It’s difficult.

I don’t know what will happen. I may fail. I may get bad reviews.

I may put myself out there and feel foolish. I may feel like the butt of everyone’s jokes: selfishly wasting my time on fictional stories that nobody reads.

With business, I’m usually pretty confident that my ideas will work: I provide a service or product that appeals to people, I put it in front of them at a good price, they buy and I make money. Then I just improve things so that it gets easier to provide excellent work and make clients happy.

And, even though some people claim disdain for economically viable prospects, there is an unquestioned respect, sometimes even awe, for entrepreneurs who can do things over the internet, make money from anywhere and travel full time.

The big chasm of course that I’m trying to bridge is this: with business, I focus on providing value to other people. I help people do things that they want to do.

This has been the pivotal ideology behind Creativindie for several years: you can do what you enjoy, you can have your freedom and earn a good living, but you have to focus on helping others and providing value.

That idea isn’t wrong in itself: it turned me from a starving artist into a thriving digital nomad. It’s a good place to get your life in order. It’s logical. It’s categorically, empirically true: it is easier to make a living by making things people want.

But I feel myself moving beyond it.

The problem is, I don’t want to work on hundreds of small projects anymore. I want to focus on one or two HUGE projects. Or at the very least, I want to focus on my own projects. Today I realized what has been missing in my life for several years is progress. Sure my Photoshop skills get better, and I can increase my prices, but I’m still basically doing the same thing, all the time, over and over.

I can’t see it building up or leading to anything greater. And I don’t want to be in the same place 10 years from now. So I’m taking some space and focusing on less guaranteed endeavors that may be an utter failure.

But I can’t possibly know until I’ve written 10 novels, done my best to market them and build a platform, and seen how things go. That should take about two years (during which time I should also finish my PhD thesis).

Perhaps the main problem with my plans was that, for several years I’ve been dreaming about the success. I had planned to sell a million copies, or at least make $10K a month in book sales. I have stated those goals publicly: I cannot but help fear embarrassment or feelings of anxiety if I do not meet these goals; anxiety that may keep me from writing.

And now that the work is before me, writing is very hard work. 

Both titillating and frustrating. I don’t need to make it more difficult than it already is.

So I’m coming to realize I have latched on to the wrong goals.

My only goal should be to fail.

I need to welcome failure, accept it, revel in it.

I need to be perfectly content with the idea of putting out ten novels that nobody reads, except for a handful of hateful trolls who leave vicious personal attacks in the form of Amazon reviews.

I need to be confident enough to fail boldly.

“Yet, against the odds, it’s possible to fail well – to rise above the unpleasant basket of emotions that come with the territory and to not allow disappointment to sour one’s very soul.” Lionel Shriver

I need to pay my dues. Maybe 10 books of failure is what it takes to create the type of artistic temperament that leads to really great work. Or perhaps it takes 10 books to learn how to write well enough to create a bestseller.

“To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one. It follows that to continue writing is to accept failure as simply a part of the experience – it’s often said that all political lives end in failure, but all writing ones begin there, endure there, and then collapse into senescent incoherence.” -Will Self

So this is my new plan, and perhaps it will ease some of the discomfort beginning to creep into my psyche as I prepare to finally, actually, do the work. Fail gracefully, humbly… boldly. If I’m concerned that writing books seems strangely self-gratifying and selfish, I can console myself in this: a major reason I want to finish some novels is so I can test out a whole bunch of marketing, publishing and author platform-building hacks, and share the results.

I plan to experiment relentlessly, recklessly – and report back with stats and details. Even if my books don’t make a ton of money, which I acknowledge I have no way of accurately predicting (although, I’m also confident enough in my knowledge and abilities to say I don’t consider it a longshot) at the very least the knowledge gained will be passed on to other authors through this blog and my other platforms, so that they may profit from the lessons of my failures.

In two years if my 10 books are dead in the water, at least I can say I tried. Maybe I’ll move on to other projects. Or maybe I’ll right 90 more (I plan to publish 100 books before actually “giving up”; 100 books before I’m 40).

I’ll still blog about other things as well, but may use some of my other platforms, more dedicated to fiction and novel writing (and marketing) and keep this one focused. Or not; this blog can scarcely be accused of focusing. Maybe it’ll remain a loose and random collection of tortured introspection; the laments of an artist trying to make a living while only doing whatever he enjoys. Time will tell.

PS) I have started a few minor projects, incidentally, including a video series about author websites I’m setting up on www.AuthorIdentity.com; and a platform for my fiction writing, www.UrbanEpics.com, but both are scarcely nascent.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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