February 14, 2012

The Truth -- Failure IS an Option

I tend to share writing successes and the shiny parts of my life on this blog -- book sales, publication days and fun family moments. 

The truth is that most of my writing life and personal life is not shiny.  It's dull, mundane and heaped with unsuccessful effort and failed attempts.  

The path to success is messy, filled with failures.

A bit of wisdom by comic Demetri Martin

Sure, there's the occasional good news that I celebrate mightily.  And sometimes there's devastating news, like a family member's suicide last week -- the third to touch our family since the start of the year (the other two were a neighbor and a young man at our son's school).

And then there are the everyday difficulties. 

Every day, we deal with the truth that one of our sons has a serious mental illness.  There were dark, difficult years -- DARK, DIFFICULT YEARS -- until we found a diagnosis, medication and therapy.  In short -- help and HOPE! 

Why am I so publicly open about our son's illness?  Why is our son completely open about his illness? 

Because we understand it's not the illness, but society's shame and stigma that keeps people from seeking help.  We stand behind NAMI's (National Alliance on Mental Illness) mission to eradicate the stigma attached to brain illnesses.  We hope brain illnesses can be looked at like physical illnesses, like diabetes, so people feel free to seek treatment without worrying about being judged or discriminated against.  Would you give insulin to your child if she were diabetic?  Of course!  Brain illnesses, from depression to anxiety to bipolar disorder (which our son has) to schizophrenia, often require medication, too.

As far as my writing life, I'm just now allowing myself to embrace and accept my writing life without hijacking my own efforts -- thinking I need a "real" job, chasing small writing jobs for "quick" money, worrying about the future and a host of what ifs.  I'm just now able to embrace this writing life for its opportunity to connect with creative people, examine the endless complexities of life, people, nature and live a rich, fulfilling life of the mind.

It's been over two years since I finished writing Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.  Two years of sending my agent a few picture books, novel premises and a completed novel that all weren't publishable.  There have been nine -- NINE -- failed projects since I wrote Olivia.

My agent -- bless her patient soul -- thought I was frustrated with her repeated "No"s.  I wasn't.  I'm not even frustrated with my repeated attempts and failures.  I've finally learned that failure -- repeated failure -- is part of the process.  I wish it wasn't.  I wish this writing life were easier.  But it is exactly what it is supposed to be.   We must try.  We must fail.  And we must try again.

This week I'm starting again.  I've got an idea I'm excited about.  And I hope this time I can push aside the fear of going deep emotionally and create my next publishable novel.

I hope.


Janeen Mason said...


Janeen Mason said...

That doesn't look right. It should be in 14 pt type. Failing in the ability to do that, let me rephrase:


(For speaking your truth with courage and great heart.) xo

Jen Swanson said...

Thanks for sharing your very personal journey, Donna. It gives those of us who also have trials in life hope that we can overcome them as well. You continue to inspire me!

Michele Weber Hurwitz said...

Lovely sentiments, Donna! I look often at this plaque by my desk: Sometimes losing our way is the best and most beautiful route home.

Laurie Taddonio said...

I may be at a loss for words about this piece. It is so true and brave and touching. Thanks for reminding us of something that is easy to forget!

Theresa Milstein said...

This is wonderful. Thanks for being honest. There's mental illness in my family too. Sadly, people deny it or sugarcoat it.

I'm going to share this on Facebook and with a friend who's a struggling writer with an autistic son.

Sayantani said...

Donna this is a fantastic piece - in my "day job" I teach in a "narrative medicine" program and a lot of what I do is think about what the sheer act of TELLING our stories does for us and for others who witness our stories, and how that witnessing changes us. I'm honored to stand witness to your story and in so doing, so grateful to be given a deeper insight into my own story. Today was another low day on the writing horizon, but reading this piece makes me feel brave again in my own write-fail-write-fail-write-hope-succeed-a-little-fail journey. Thank you for the teaching. Thank you.

Jennifer said...

Very powerful post, Donna. It spoke to me on a few levels, but the bottom line is perception versus reality, the superficial versus the depth. I've often wondered why society as a whole seems to refuse to accept illnesses of the brain as *real* illnesses, versus some kind of mental weakness or failure of willpower or something. Because of that, those who suffer (and those who love them) feel at fault or shamed. I don't understand that. As for the writing...to everything, there is a season, right? Creativity must be the same. The last two years, a time of planting. Now, a time to reap. (Unless I'm mixing my farming metaphors, in which case, feel free to ignore me.) Either way, thank you for sharing with such honesty and candor!

Debby G. said...

Wishing you the best year ever. You deserve it.

Donna B said...

Dear Donna,
I am so delighted and honored that you included me to read your blog.
You are a brave woman for being so honest and educating people about this brain disease.
There are no failures because we learn one more thing every time we do something. I believe you will have a very positive outcome.
My best to you, always!
Donna B

Mirka Breen said...

We are admonished not to show the climbing until we have reached the mountain top. Once you hold the Newbery, or the Oscar- or the Pulitzer, in your hand, then and only then you can share how long and how hard it was to get there.
One agent on the BB even shared that she tells her clients not to list their rejections or speak publicly about them, since she is ‘trying to sell them.’
But everyone knows that there are many NOs to every YES. Everyone knows that challenges of every kind lurk behind every corner. You’re just not supposed to acknowledge it.
Well, I’m glad you did. Applause.

Anne E. Johnson said...

I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately: the difficulties of the writing life that the outsider never sees. Yesterday, even my own mother expressed surprise when I told her how many rejections I'd received in the past month. Turns out I'd only told her about the acceptances, so she thought life was nothing but pizza and ice cream.

Thanks for the excellent post.

Wild About Words said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt comments. They have filled me up. Amazing how a little honesty connects us to each other in the most meaningful ways.

Angela Ackerman said...

THIS: Because we understand it's not the illness, but society's shame and stigma that keeps people from seeking help.

I couldn't agree more. I love the series that in on TV right now where famous sport athletes and celebrities are being open about Depression. The stigma of it and other mental illness needs to be erased. :)

You have a great attitude, both about life, and writing. :) Hugs!

Wild About Words said...

Thanks, Angela! I'm so glad we connected through Becca and your amazing blog just brimming with resources for writers.

Amanda Coppedge said...

Thanks so much for this post, Donna. And so sorry your family has experienced so much sadness so far this year. *hugs*

Wild About Words said...

Thanks, Amanda!