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I was posting my story on another site. After a while it sunk to the bottom. Not a big deal. But soon it seemed like everyone began to ignore it. So I cancelled it because I couldn't keep posting back-to-back and I had nowhere else to share. Nobody tried to talk me out of cancelling it. I'll be honest, it kind of hurt. So I erased more than half of the story I wrote (there was an obvious decline in quality, at least to me) but I can't seem to get my inspiration up enough to continue and I really don't want to scrap this project. So my question is, how do you find the steam to keep going when you know your story partially failed?

  • All of you really helped me lift my spirits :) I'll admit, I was hung up that my story kind of died out. There are a couple of factors to that that would allow it to make sense as to why I was hung up on it, unfortunately most of those factors are personal :/ Also, not only was I asking a question, but I wanted to test parts of this community. To see if people would treat me like an ignorant child or help me pick up the pieces (I find it difficult to find a good community that ACTUALLY helps one another). Thank you all for being wonderful :) – NobodyInParticular Feb 1 '15 at 19:53
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You have a few options:

  • Your story didn't fail. It just didn't find its audience on that site. Post it somewhere else.
  • Your story didn't fail. It just didn't find its audience right now. Post it again in six months.
  • Your story didn't fail. It just needs an editor (or at least a beta reader). Find someone to read it and help you improve it.
  • Your story didn't fail. It just needs some work. Put it away for three months and work on something else (which may or may not be writing). Come back to it three months from now and re-read it with fresh eyes, and you'll see a whole bunch of things you can fix.
  • Your story didn't fail. You are relying on outside influences to encourage you to write, which means the story is not burning a hole in your head to be told. Put it away until you itch so badly to work on it that you have to pick it up again.
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    Your answer implies that writing projects cannot fail. I miss the option: Failure is a normal part of learning. Start the next project. Eventually one will succeed. – user5645 Jan 31 '15 at 12:24
  • @what Yes, you are correct. Of course projects fail. The OP sounded very hung up on "my story failed" and I wanted to show how "failure" can be reframed in a number of different ways which aren't so momentum-killing. Also, the OP specifically wanted to continue with this project, so I was trying to show paths to take for that outcome. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 31 '15 at 13:57
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    I know numerous people who have been working on their first novel, comic book or whatever for a decade or longer. Even if a project didn't ultimately fail, after a certain time I think it is better to move on to the next project - and maybe return to the present one afterwards, with a fresh mind and from some emotional distance. – user5645 Jan 31 '15 at 15:37
  • @what Perfectly legitimate. Make it an answer. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 31 '15 at 15:42
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    I'm happy with this being an emendation to your otherwise great answer. – user5645 Jan 31 '15 at 18:45
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Several thoughts here.

The first is, don't be discouraged by failure. Learn from it and move on. We all fail sometimes. Thomas Edison, when discussing his attempts to invent a practical light bulb, once said, "I haven't failed. I've found 600 ways that don't work." His point was, trying something and discovering that it doesn't work is a natural part of getting to something that does work. If the very first thing you try works, that might well be more good luck than skill.

Second thought: A few years ago I visited a church where the kids were putting on a program, singing and skits and poetry readings and so on. And one young lady got up and was so nervous trying to perform in front of a group that she literally was on the brink of fainting and had to be helped off the stage. But then ten minutes later she tried again and did a beautiful job. And it occurred to me: It doesn't matter if you fail ten times in a row ... as long as you try eleven times.

Maybe your story is very good and you just need to find the right audience. Maybe your story is very bad and you need to learn from the experience and try again. Either way, don't give up.

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Try to get feedback from the people who read/stopped reading if you can bring yourself to speak to them - this will allow you to learn from what happened. Don't see it as a failure, see it as a learning curve, because that's what writing is. You never stop learning as a writer.

Put the project aside for a little while and work on something else. Eventually the characters will start to come back to you with new ideas and you'll return to the project with a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm.

When you do return to it (or whilst you're working on something else), get feedback from anyone who will listen. The more feedback you've got, the more you'll be able to learn about what worked, what didn't, and how you can improve your project and ultimately, finish it.

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Unfortunately, if you can't face rejection of your work, you can't be a writer. The sad truth is even the most successful writers have all had the experience of being at one time or another critically panned, rejected or otherwise. As the saying goes, if you can give up writing, do so, if you can't... you're doomed to be a writer!

One thing that can help, even though it is difficult, is to try to gain some emotional distance with your work --not with writing it, but the finished project. It's hard not to feel like you are being personally rejected when people reject your work, but it actually isn't personal, even when it feels like it is. And while it may be that the work has some fatal flaw, it might also be that it didn't succeed for reasons entirely unrelated to how good it is.

I do also recommend reading the book "Mortification". I know it made me feel much better to read about famous and well-respected authors facing empty book signings and worse (like the author who found a used copy of his book in a clearance bin --only to realize it was the copy he had signed for his parents!)

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No honest attempt is ever wasted. At worst, you've practiced your skills and learned that this one didn't work at this time in this place.

And remember that many good stories were rejected by everyone the first time they were circulated, or were conceptually fine but the author's skills weren't yet up to doing them justice and were more successful later on after the author was more polished and better known.

If you're going to be an artist, of any kind, you need to accept that not every attempt is going to succeed, and those which are successful technically may still not find their audience until much later, if ever.

Competing publishers exist in the paying market (and why publishers compete with themselves, offering magazines which have similar subject matter but different editorial policy) precisely to provide the opportunity for creators and consumers to find each other. It's not at all uncommon for a story to be submitted to 20 different markets before someone picks it up.

Either try to find the right audience for this story, or set it aside and come back to it after you've gotten some distance and can evaluate it more fairly.

Meanwhile, remember that they haven't rejected you -- they just didn't pick up on this piece. Keep trying. This happens to everyone. It's inherent in learning a craft, never mind an art.

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It sounds like you were writing fiction, in which case you are an artist producing art.

Now others my attach adjectives to both those nouns - good, bad, popular, unpopular, sublime, wretched - but that is none of your business.

You own your process. The outcome is not in your hands.

You can chase the bubble reputation, even to the cannon's mouth, and you might even hold the delicate globe for a brief moment before it disappears, but that is all effort and energy taken away from your prime task: working out how your relationship to existence expresses itself in words.

You can even take rejection as an imprimatur of progress. This mania for collective intelligence ignores what I call the Copernicus factor. Imagine if the survival of his ideas depended on their popularity.

Of course you take coaching and feedback, but you cannot escape your responsibility of judging its validity for YOU. Including this, of course. Including this.

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