Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Bitter Taste of Ash: An Insecure Writer’s Support Group post

Welcome to the October edition of IWSG. If you haven’t already seen it, jump on over to Ninja Captain Alex’s blog, hop on the Linky, and release your fears and troubles into the world. Be sure to drop by the cohosts Julie Luek, Rachna Chabria, Beverly Fox, and Ilima Todd and thank them for volunteering for this month’s duties.

And now for a public service announcement:

Failure is the risk of living.

Yeah, I know, it sucks. It’s a gift, a second chance. It’s all the clichés and none of them wrapped in a stinking pile of nostalgia, regret, and bitter ash. (Maybe I should ease into topics, but sometimes the band-aid approach works best: yank and get it over with.)

When I was in high school and I told people I wanted to be a writer, they’d ask things like “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll wake up in your forties one day, and you’ll have accomplished nothing with your life? Don’t you worry about squandering your life for a pile of broken dreams? What happens if you never get published and you die having failed at everything you've ever tried?” It was very similar to the events described by Elizabeth Gilbert (see her amazing Ted talk).

This fear, this standing on the brink of something as sacred as your dreams is filled with everything that can go wrong. When people remind you how fragile this dream is, they make it sound hallowed. Don’t fly too close to the sun Icarus.

News flash: the heap of broken dreams with the bitter taste of ash in your mouth? You can get there by taking the safe path too. No one warns you that you can take the safe path, the sure thing, the "right" choice and still land in a ruined heap trying to figure out how to start your life over after a decade of hard work and heartache.

I know, way to really lift everyone’s spirits today, Rena, but I have something to say: The risk of absolute failure lies down EVERY path. So much of life is completely out of your control, why would you let the fear of failure stop you from pursuing your dreams.

I see a lot of writers these days hesitating on books or ideas. How do I know which one is right? You don’t. Worse, you could pick the perfect book, and it could still go nowhere. Imagine a book, similar to Twilight, but this one starring dragons instead of vampires. It snagged an agent. It sold to a publisher for wads of cash, and guess what? It flopped. (I only know this because an agent told me a previous book of mine reminded her of that book). And by flop, I mean the bookstore owner groaned when I asked her about it. Groaned. Then she smiled and said they’d returned all their unsold copies—which was all the copies they’d ordered—last week. Perfect book, poised to take advantage of a craze, and it got nada. 

And it can happen in any profession. Safe jobs, dull jobs, wild jobs, dangerous jobs, everywhere.

There might be a pile of bitter ash at the end of every road, so why not walk the one you want? And you never know, the rainbow has to end somewhere, why not down that path? (that’s why there are so many songs about rainbows).


  1. "There might be a pile of bitter ash at the end of every road, so why not walk the one you want?" --- Right? Live the dream! Do what you love! Fail spectacularly, I say!

    Not that I'm not terrified that that's where I'm going to end, but it's time to run at my dreams head-on, rather than cower from the prospect of failure in the corner.

    It's anxiety inducing, FYI.

  2. Be bold, make mistakes, do something stupid. At least when you get to the end you'll be able to say you lived, eh? ;) As long as there's cheese along the journey, it will all work out.

  3. Nothing in life comes with a guarantee, just as no one knows what life will throw at them. I enjoy following the path to see where it goes I'm tired of people laughing at my dreams because if I don't try I'll never know what might have been and that scares me more than not reaching the published destination. Happy writing, Rena :)

  4. I quite frankly found your band aid approach quite helpful. There came a time when I had to ask myself, do I want to write for the love of writing or for money, fame, etc. The early answer was love. I mean seriously...I would write for free. Oh hell, I's called a blog! It's when I lose site of that love that I get insecure. That's when I measure myself against everyone else and get all twisted inside. My grandmother once told me to always reach for the stars, you'll never come up with a handful of mud.
    Thanks! I needed that reminder!

  5. This is so true! We might as well enjoy the journey, because who knows what's going to be at the end :)

  6. Yes! Rena, I ALWAYS love your heartfelt posts... they're so "real." And I love how they speak to me. This is a realization I've come to myself lately--and this post reaffirms it. So great! <3

  7. This is so true. Sometimes I sit around and obssess over whether I'm making the right choices with my story. Should it have a MG MC or should I make him a college student? Should I write in first person or third? What will the readers want. I just have to pick one and go for it. Thanks for the post.

  8. Very true!
    I think, if we listen closely, we all know what we were made for, and what stories we were meant to tell. Those might be the ones that burn the brightest. So, to extend your metaphor a bit, if I'm to end in ash anyway why not burn as brightly as I can?
    I always enjoy your heartfelt posts. :)

  9. Rena, this is such a great point! Not taking a risk can certainly leave us with a feeling of regret. At least if you go for it you have something to be proud of no matter how it turns out! And of course, a failure isn't the end. You just keep trying until it works. :)

  10. I cannot fathom people being so mean. just because they are afraid to follow their own dreams, that doesn't mean they should make you afraid of yours. >=/
    I'm with you Rena. There's no fool-proof path anywhere. Doctors that end up bitter and ruined alongside forgotten actors. I'd never discourage my kid of her dream path. I will make her conscious that there are paths that take longer to reach the desired spot, or that are more likely to lead nowhere. Be prepared, have a plan B, but never stop pursuing your dreams!

  11. New follower here. Best of luck with all your risks, projects, and avoiding naysayers. I'm so glad to find a new writing friend. I look forward to visiting again.


  12. Now you've got Kermit singing in my head. *sways to it* New visitor from the IWSG and a follower now. I love this post and all the points you make in it. The great thing about dreams is that you often get more than one chance to follow them, and you get chances to follow more than one of them in a lifetime. Not following a dream because you're afraid of failure is like avoiding love because you're afraid to get hurt, and as Wolf said "You may not get hurt, but huff puff, you won't get loved either!" I'd hate to spend a life mourning a chance I never took. Yikes. I'm glad you're not letting people's discouraging words stop you.

    I loved stopping by your blog and look forward to more great posts. You do look good with pink hair - and not everyone can say that! (Also, you made me miss Dragoncon. I only went once, but I'll never forget it.)


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