Is failing fast and often good for writers?

failureWas it only 4 weeks ago I recommitted to doing a weekly blog post? And look: I’ve failed already. I completely forgot about doing a post last week.

In my Real Life™, I occasionally work on software development projects, where failing fast and failing often is a virtue. In which case, I’m an angel. I fail on a daily basis. But is failing fast, and often, a virtue for a writer?

In the software world, failing fast & often is about getting code out and tested in context to find out what works and doesn’t work. It’s part of the Agile Methodology which was developed to address the problems with the traditional project management methodology, where you would try to fully scope a project, then build the software as specified, then release the product to the client. One of the biggest problems with the model was that by the time the software was completed, the business needs had changed, so the software supplied was no longer fit for purpose.

There’s not much about the two domains (writing software between writing texts) that is analogous, unless you are writing to a market. I attended a workshop recently at my local writers’ centre on how to have an Amazon bestseller, and if that’s your interest, then the fail fast, fail often model is probably apt. It’s all about market niches, keywords and SEO optimisation: learning and adjusting, learning and adjusting.  In both domains, it’s necessary to adapt to stay abreast of current circumstances.

One way of ‘failing often’ that is recommended in the writing trade is to submit your work often. Author Helen Cox, who just signed a three book deal with Quercus, told me she thinks it’s a numbers game:

“Submitting and resubmitting is the best bet of getting something published as it really is just a matter of it landing on the right person’s desk a lot of the time.”

The writing industry is full of legends of novels that were rejected by everyone. It’s a fact of life that rejection is part of the job for writers, and one argument is the sooner you develop a thick skin, the better. Another is it helps you understand what publishers are looking for, and that it helps you increase your output.

In 2017, author Lynne Lumsden-Green set herself the target of making 100 short story submissions in a year, and achieved the target—so she set herself a new one.

I use the ‘submit often’ strategy for two reasons. Firstly, having a few stories on the go means a rejection isn’t the same crushing emotional event as when I was only submitting one thing at a time. Secondly, it forces me to write more, and not be a princess about it. Get the story down! Then I can worry about editing it into perfection.

As an added bonus, lots of submissions increases the chance of an acceptance!”

One of Lynne’s recent successes was an acceptance that included a request that she write more stories about the same world. As Helen said: right publisher, right time. Over on Lynne’s blog she describes her process in detail.

For me, ‘failing’ too often means ‘failing to write’. I fail to write often, which means no progress. The key is in the name: thinking about writing is not the same as sitting your ass in a chair and tapping the keys or, my preference, scratching the pen across the paper.

At the root of my failure to write is fear of failure. I’m still at the ‘write something to submit’ stage (again) and my first goal is just to focus on getting words down. The good news is, I’m getting there: the last 2 weeks I’ve produced about three thousand words a week.

So long as you keep writing, I don’t think you can really fail at writing, but I think the advice to get your work out there and ride out the inevitable rejection is good advice.




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