Failing better

Fortunately, most of us get more than one chance to get it right.

Okay, I’ve been slacking. This bothers me since it’s National Poetry Month and I had all these great ideas about drawings for poems, and I was hoping to get going on some excellent Wonder Women portraits. But all I have for you today this recycled drawing. I used it as the cover in 2005 for Monday Night, a small journal I helped co-found over a decade ago—and even then it was borrowed from a larger piece I did for a drawing class. Clearly, I’m into recycling. Easy on the planet, easy on the blog!

However I do have a somewhat decent excuse for not drawing and that is because I have been writing. A lot. In the past month, I’ve made it almost halfway through a revision of a novel I first completed last October. After I had a few readers look at that draft, they gave me some feedback, I revised again, then started sending out to agents. And I got rejected. A lot.

The first thing an artist learns is how to make failure useful.

The whole process took about three months. Send, send, send. Reject, reject, reject. Sometime near Thanksgiving, I got three rejections in one day. Within an hour of each other. Ouch.

So I got depressed. I whined. I drank. I vowed never to write again (as if) and considered burning the manuscript (oh, please). Instead, I put the book aside. Then I did some drawings, did some design, and worked on a collection of stories. And I forgot about the stupid book for a while.

Last month, I decided I would give it another shot. Truthfully, the response from agents hadn’t all been terrible; I did receive several encouraging notes that offered specific feedback and invitations to submit again. So I reread their notes and reread my manuscript. And I cringed. The draft I had sent out was my get-it-down draft—the one in which I laid out the story for myself. While many parts of it had been revised several times, overall, thing still sorta felt like a shitty first draft.

I knew what needed to be done, but I feared doing it because that would require rewriting the damn thing. Like from scratch. And deleting the entire beginning, rewriting several chapters, altering relationships, changing the tense, changing the perspective, and sinking deeper into story and character. I had to take more and greater risks. I also had to stop trying to show off, kill all the darlings, and tell the story straight.


This meant work. A lot of it, and I felt as though I’d already done so much. Then again, if I’m ever going to get it right I have to keep at it: work hard, try again, and fail again. Fail better. So even if the story never makes it past my initial readers, at least I feel I’ve done it justice. Rejection sucks, but nothing good in life or in art comes without struggle. If it did, it wouldn’t be worth it.

So I may be on hiatus for a while as I try again. Another 40,000 words to go, then another rewrite, then another round of submissions. Another round of rejections. But if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get closer this time. . .