In the final pages of my 2015 publication, King John, I promised two books in 2016. I gave this promise great consideration before committing. I usually write one book a year.
The first book of the two promised books, Come Back To Me, ended up roughly 123K, and since 80K words is considered novel-length, this was a long novel. I wrote and rewrote much more than expected. My proposed writing schedule did not account for my attending the Lambda Literary retreat in August. I wrote and revised three research-heavy chapters to have critiqued. Food poisoning knocked me out for two weeks. From May to November, I glommed onto all-things-garden with ridiculous joy, and I do not regret the evenings I prioritized gardening over writing.
There were plenty of nights I watched Netflix and ate panang curry on the couch.
Still, I tried fairly goddamn hard. Come Back To Me published in August. In October, I finished the first draft of King Daniel. Since then, I have been engaged almost daily with what can only be described as “vigorous editing.” I gave myself until December 27th to finish those edits. Today is the 28th. I’m not done.
I failed to get two books published in 2016. Then, I failed to meet my revised schedule to finish the draft and edits by December 27th.
I’m trying to eliminate the sting of failure.
I’m not sure why failure is so horrible when you tried your best. (Or close to your best, minus a Elementary marathon, first three seasons. That show is soooooo good.) I spent most of my free time in 2016 writing. I didn’t start fretting about this goal in November, I’ve been writing my ass off since January.
I pursued this goal with vigor, while maintaining friendships, taking long visits to visit Mom, exploring Minneapolis on bicycle, mowing the lawn, and remembering to order pizza and work out.
Still, I failed.
Why sugarcoat it?
I don’t need accolades of “But you got so close!” or “It couldn’t be helped.” It could be helped. I could have watched less television, saw friends less, read less comic books before bed.
I want to be the kind of man who sets goals and strives. I want to be the kind of man who strives toward a goal and says, “Oooo–perfect autumn day! I should go throw leaves in the creek.” I want interruptions from achievement in the form of Saturday morning walks, and laughing crock pot dinners. I want to make time for pranks. I want to feel sadness and let that mood carry me, even if it means no writing gets done for two days. I embrace lazy Saturdays when they are necessary and pleasing.
In my life, I’ve worked through enough personal shit to skip internalizing the words “I failed” as a claim on my humanity. I’m not a failure. I love who I am. I love my life. Sure, I missed a writing goal I knew would be a massive commitment. But I really fucking tried.
I’d like “I failed” to be invisibly followed by, “because I tried.”
I called Ann last night, freaked out I had failed again, and equally upset my new “because I tried” philosophy was sorely tested. When you’re a former Type A, attempting to harness those attributes but with a new, moderated chill, conflict happens. Ann and I often laugh at our “straight A” tendencies, our fixed mindsets, and how it ass-bites us when we’re not paying attention.
Six minutes into my high-strung explanation, she sliced through my babble to lance the true issue.
“This is how you’re saying goodbye to Vin? Racing through this high pressure, self-imposed deadline. Don’t you think he deserves better than that?”
She shocked me.
I forgot something important. I have been writing The Lost and Founds aggressively for the past five years. During this time, I’ve had amazing adventures with readers, reviewers, and characters.
I remember many years ago, one ordinary night, I thought, “If I write a book about New York, I’ll have to live there.” I knew three things about that book: the title, it needed to include a secret apartment and there would be violence. Years later, three dozen copies of The Butterfly King sit in perfect alignment on my shelf, brightly gleaming. I lived in New York before writing that book. The book had a secret apartment under the New York Public Library. And violence.
The sixth book finishes the first story arc in The Lost and Founds. Even in future books where Vin narrates, I will never have the same relationship with him as I do now. He grew and changed. I did, too. We truly are saying goodbye, author and beloved character.
I wanted this book emailed to my editor by December 27th, so I could get inspired by this week’s vacation in a redwood forest. I’m beginning a new book! In my exuberance, I treated this final Lost and Founds book like an irritating, “To Do.”
Thank Hercules, I failed to reach my goal.
This means I can now take deep breaths. Celebrate. Walk with an old friend in an ancient forest, inhaling the clean miracle of telling your character’s story. I will start my new book while on vacation. I will also finish my edits on this vacation, celebrating the conclusion of Vin Vanbly’s story arc with great food, outdoor hot tubbing, and crisp red wine. I’ll get a massage in my cabin and then wrap myself in a blanket to sit on my little back porch, staring at the cold stars, impossible miles away.
I can’t think of a better failure.