Failure | Author Denise Grover Swank Failure | Author Denise Grover Swank
Denise Grover Swank


Warning:  The author is blatantly honest in this post.
As December drew to a close and I spent every moment possible editing Sacrifice, the Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge taunted me every time I signed on. “You have read 46 books of your 52 books. You need six more books to complete your goal.”
What’s a Goodreads Reading Challenge? At the beginning of the year, you can challenge yourself to read a specific number of books. I picked 52 last year. I probably read that the previous year anyway. I just hadn’t recorded it. Besides, if your a writer, you need to be reading. Since I can easily read a book in a day or two, it seemed easy enough.
Then I published four books in six months, as well as writing a first draft and editing TWO books in that time period.
(The fact that I’m insane has already been established in previous blog posts.)
No big deal, right? So I didn’t get those six books read.  Let it go. Only I couldn’t. I saw those six books as a sign of failure. I set a goal and I didn’t achieve it.
Plaster a scarlet F on my chest.
December was a huge month for The Chosen series. Chosen was in the top 5 of contemporary fantasy on Amazon the entire month. It was #1 for one and a half weeks. The rest of the time it was usually two or three. Chosen was also in the top 10 of romantic suspense the entire month, spending several days in the #4 position.  Chosen climbed into the top 100 of overall Kindle sales for three days, hitting as high as #81. The day Hunted released it debuted on both top 100 lists for contemporary fantasy and romantic suspsense. Hunted was #1 New Release for both contemporary fantasy and romantic suspense at the same time for a week and climbed as high as #5 in contemporary fantasy and #8 in romantic suspense.
Sounds like I’m bragging, right?
I’m so proud of those stats. Beyond thrilled. Yet I feel like a failure. If Chosen were better would it have stayed in the top 100 in overall Kindle sales longer? If it were better would it still  have gotten a few one and two star reviews? If Chosen were better, wouldn’t the sales of Hunted have been higher?
I’ve spent most of my life as an over-achiever, my own worst critic.  I compare myself to others. I sometimes hold myself to impossible standards. I make no secret of the fact that I’m driven. I wouldn’t be right here, right now if I wasn’t.
But sometimes I’m my own worst enemy.
Every book I write gets harder. The anxiety is overwhelming, the fear of failure taunts me with every word I put on the page. I thought that the more I learned, the more books I wrote, I would become more confident. My previous successful books would prove to me that I could do this. Instead, I wonder if this is the book that falls flat. If this is my personal version of season three of Battlestar Galactica.*
I took last week off, a much needed rest. I still did some business work but no writing or editing was allowed. I planned to start writing Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons on Tuesday, but when I started writing doubts raced through my head. Is this scene too forced? Is this funny enough? Am I really in Rose’s voice?  I began to doubt my plot, doubt my voice, doubt my ability to write the book.
I was frozen with fear.
I wondered why it couldn’t be like writing Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. That manuscript was pure joy from the moment I began to the day I wrote The End thirty days later. Rose took charge and plunged through that book so quickly I could hardly keep up. And I let her. I held on tight, rubbed my wrists when carpal tunnel began to set in, and let her go. What happened was pure magic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes was like getting struck by lightning, in a good way if that’s possible.
And then last night I had a light bulb moment.
Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes was fun because I let it be. I gave Rose control with no agenda, no deadlines, no expectations. The book was barely plotted. Parts were as much of a surprise to me as they were to readers. Rose rambled. She’s a true southern girl, complete with run on sentences. And I let her. I let her say what she wanted to say, the way she said it. It’s no wonder I began speaking with a southern accent. A twenty-four year old Arkansan woman lived in my head. I let her go off on wild tangents, say the most random things. It was her story and she was telling it. My job was to put it on the page.  There was a time to clean it up, but first draft wasn’t that time. The multiple revisions and edits that came later would take care of that.
Last night I realized that in this one thing, I need to let go. I need to trust Rose and let her tell her story. I need to stuff my worry in a tin can and bury it in the backyard. The first draft is going to be messy and I need to let it be.
I need to have fun.
And so I made a pact with my crit partner last night. We are both going to write messy, beastly first drafts and we will read them without judgement. There is no wrong. There is no stupid. There is only ways to make it better.
For the first time in a very long time I feel like a weight has been removed. I can breath a little easier and I feel a little freer. I’m excited to get back into Rose’s head. Still, I know my doubts will return. I’m not naive enough to think this single proclamation will hold the anxiety monsters at bay. But it’s a start. I plan to take this one day at time. One step at a time. One word at a time. Until I write The End.
*I spent most of my week off watching Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. I LOVED the first two seasons but have spent the first eight episodes of season three asking, “What happened to this awesome show?”

Categories: Writing
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Patty Blount
Patty Blount
12 years ago

Awesome post! I identify completely. I often think I could have been published years and years ago, but I was too young to learn the lessons I’ve learned now – the lessons you’ve listed here.

Unfinished Art
Unfinished Art
12 years ago

My parents died 18 days apart a year ago, if that “experience” has taught me anything it’s this: Everything important must be dealt with on a day by day basis. From what I can gather, writing is the same way and yours is proof, all of it I’ve read has been great from start to finish.
To try and impose any sort of time restriction on something as significant as dealing with loss or telling a story that’s important can only be a detriment to the overall result. Of course I can count myself lucky that dealing with becoming a basket case doesn’t come with a deadline.
Your books are great and Season 3 of Battlestar Gallactica is pretty rough. I imagine writing for a deadline can be challenging, but take heart because it, like watching BSG WILL get easier again.

12 years ago

I think we all have been here if we’ve been writing for any length of time. And I expect what you are feeling is normal for a successful newbie in publishing. Well, kiddo you have grown up and past the marker of a fully successful writer. Congratulations!!!!

Edie Jo Gibson
Edie Jo Gibson
12 years ago

You are not a failure, You are an inspiration. You are blazing a path for us newbies as we watch you on your journey. Knowing it is okay to feel frustrated and overwhelmed only helps us understand that it is okay to feel this way as long as we work through it. Now….your vacation is over, go get started on those sequels the rest of are anxiously awaiting and know without a doubt will be more wonderful than the ones before!

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