No Failure Zone

I know this guy.  Let’s call him Henry.

When Henry was in high school, he discovered that he loved writing.  It was the only scholarly endeavor for which he found an innate ability within himself.  He got swept up in being good at something on the first try, as it wasn’t a thing that happened often.  Still, Henry realized it was easy to feel talented in a creative writing class of 30 students who hadn’t yet set foot on a college campus.

When the time came to choose a Major in college, Henry didn’t go for Journalism or English.  Why? In a word: cowardice. He didn’t believe he’d ever really be able to make it back then.  The idea of writing a novel, then fighting to find a publisher, and piling up a stack of rejection letters scared the hell out of him. So, he ended up in Molecular Biology of all things.  At the time, Henry told himself that he was using his head and picking a major that would make him employable.  It wasn’t black and white, he didn’t simply sell out to this notion, he had an honest interest in the mechanics of life, and a need to understand the natural world. He didn’t regret the decision because it was the understanding of these things that would later lead him right back to being inspired to write, but I’ll try not to jump ahead.

Getting a job, it turned out, was a lot like getting published, just on a smaller scale.  Henry found that part of his original “cowardice” ironic.  When he graduated, he ended up working at a gym for a year before he finally got a job at a lab.

He told me once that he remembered thinking, “finally, I’ve got my foot in the door, a job in my field.”

Once working in his ‘field,’ he began to slowly hate his life.  Henry thinks a lot of science majors go through this.  He was fighting the realization that, though he may have liked learning about biology, actively being involved in research for it just wasn’t where he would excel.

He attempted to write a novel during this time.  Unfortunately, the depression that his daily grind was putting on him, coupled with the economic downturn around 2008, morphed into a feeling of being trapped in his job.  Those feelings bleed straight into his writing. His characters were so jaded even his wife didn’t want to read what he produced.  So he gave up on the manuscript, tossed it in a folder titled “misc” on his hard drive after about 60 pages.

Later, he left the lab, and took a job in what we’ll just call ‘business.’ Think cubicles, computer screens, never-ending email, and a lot of over time.  He was happier than he’d been at the lab, at least for a while.  Eventually, the distaste for his situation reared its head again. He found himself thinking that maybe he just needed some adventure.  He even thought of joining the National Guard.  One day Henry runs this by a good friend, who happens to be x-military, and the friend stares at him like he is retarded.

“No.  God no.  Punch yourself in the balls and go write a book,” says the friend.  I’m paraphrasing but you get the point.

It was a long conversation, but this friend opens Henry’s eyes to the eBook revolution.  Sure, he’d heard of a kindle before, but he had no idea what was going on in the industry.  Suddenly Henry’s great fear of having to surmount some bureaucrat nightmare of manuscript submissions and rejections just evaporates.  Not only that, he sees the other benefits.  He sees that no marketing executive can tell him what his cover will look like, what genre it falls in, what demographic it has to fit.  Henry’s brain lights up with the possibilities of actually writing the story he always wanted to read.  He is so inspired, he starts straight to work.  In a few months, he completes the first draft of his novel.  All accomplished in the hours between working and sleeping.

Everything seems so promising for a while, it’s the same story Henry had tried to get out before, but now his wife loves the voice of the prose and the characters.  He runs the concept by friends and they get excited.  He starts the revision process, and to his surprise, it takes longer then writing the first draft.  He didn’t expect this, but it just drives him forward instead of pushing him back. Up till this point, Henry is simply happy to be creating something. Writing and being creative was keeping away the blues that he often experience from 10 hour days at work.  It didn’t even matter if he believed in what he was doing so to speak.  Worst that could happen, he posted the book on Amazon and maybe no one bought it.

“So I can’t quit my day job, no big deal,” he says, “I’m not saying it wouldn’t be disappointing, but at least I was happy while I was writing.”

Then something odd happens.  Henry is suddenly afraid again.  He realizes that he’s put more positive energy into this project than anything he’s ever done. That he has spent the last year with this novel either on the forefront of his mind or at least orbiting his consciousness. Every time his wife was giving Henry the grocery list he was half distracted with tying up a plot hole or making a character more believable in his head. Every time he heard the perfect word he’d been looking for uttered in some random conversation at the office, he‘d run to his notepad to make sure he wouldn’t lose it.

He knows why he is afraid now.  Henry realizes there is more at stake then he originally thought.  He really does believe in this thing he created.  He won’t be able to just brush it off.  He doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur, Henry gets that every author comes to fall in love with the story they’ve written.  What he finds he can’t stand has nothing to do with how the book is received. Sure, he’d like the story to be loved, but he can live with bad reviews.  What Henry can’t stand is the idea of the book never being read because it’s lost in a tidal wave of e-books and indie authors with the same exact dream.

Suddenly, the liberating things that got Henry to this point are the things he dwells on.  Henry is scared that he can’t fit his manuscript into a genre, and the ones it does fit are either two broad or seem to give the wrong impression.  He doesn’t know how to make it stand out against the other 10 thousand entries that are going to show up long before his book on Amazon’s search engine.  He is researching SEO Tags. He gets overly nervous when he can’t seem to generate any traffic to his book trailer.  He worries that he has no original ideas for a platform, that networking is not one of his strong suits.  Everything that made the process exciting is now what makes it frightening.  His demographic matters, his genre matters, his book cover might look terrible to 90% of the people who’d of otherwise liked his book.

What is more, he realizes that this is what he wants to do, and he is no longer deluding himself about it.  Henry doesn’t want to squeak writing into his life between 7-9 pm and weekends anymore.  He sees successful authors churning out 2 or 3 books a year and he is overly aware of the advantage they have over him.  He realizes all this because he can finally say these words to himself:

“I know I can do it.”

It’s such a vitally important statement to Henry, because it’s not an untested dream any longer. Not just some idle, “I’d like to write a novel someday.”  If he can write a book is no longer a question . He did it even under these exhausting circumstances.  The new question is:  what could he do if he was writing for 40 hours a week?  This question becomes the fear though. He may never get to live that dream, not when he is working a full time job to support his family.  The success of this story he’s created suddenly becomes all the more important.

Henry realizes the simple truth, that this is a matter of energy.  Writing a book, while working a full time job took a lot of sacrifices.  Most of them, for Henry, were health and family sacrifices.  He found it was impossible to work full time and go to the gym 4-5 days week.  He just didn’t have the mental or physical stamina.  He’d get home and fall over.  If he hadn’t quit working out, he knew without a doubt that he wouldn’t of made it this far.  In addition to that, writing took up the 2-3 hours of time where he wasn’t at work or commuting, and it meant he wasn’t spending that time with his family. It’s a funny thing to mention now, but he got a promotion while he was writing, which meant more overtime in the end and even less writing time.

So this becomes Henry’s fear, that he won’t have the fortitude to do this again if he can’t find his audience. It’s that self-doubt that really burdens him: “Can I endure until I find them?”  Henry, after all, does not need outrageous success. He is just looking for enough readers to make story crafting his full time job.

 

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