On Failure And Taking Risks As A Writer

On Failure And Taking Risks As A Writer

By Neal Martin/ November 7, 2015
Last Updated April 26, 2023

To grow as a writer you have to take risks. Calculated risks preferably, but risks none the less. And to take those risks, you can’t fear failure.

Arguably, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned over the years is that failure is not something to be feared, but to be embraced.

Fear of failure used to cripple me. I would put off doing a lot of stuff if I thought there was a strong possibility that I would fail. Consequently, my life didn’t advance the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I finally woke up to the fact that I would have to get used to feeling uncertain and uncomfortable about things; that I would have to learn to manage my fear. When I accepted those things, my life began to move forward at a much quicker and more purposeful pace.

Of course, I still struggle with fear, doubt and uncertainty. That will always be the case. The key thing is that I have accepted that fact now, which allows me to move forward anyway.

In writing terms, I find the more and longer I do it, the more willing I am to take risks and embrace failure. In fact, the system for success that I am following demands that I risk failure by trying stuff I have never tried before.

Which is why I have chosen to take a risk with my next book. For the past few years I have been writing in the dark urban fantasy genre. When I decided to give fiction writing a serious go a few years back, I also decided that the urban fantasy genre offered the most opportunities to me. It was a genre I was interested in and one that I felt I could write well enough in. The market for the genre was also strong, which–coupled with a huge dose of naivety and delusional hope that I would soon be a bestseller–convinced me that I should go into that particular genre.

In hindsight, I don’t regret my decision. After five novels, I have achieved a modicum of success, certainly less that I initially hoped for (thank fuck for my non-fiction books is all I’m going to say to that).

On the plus side, I have written five novels and grown immeasurably as a fiction writer. The experience I have gained from writing those books has been glorious, a revelation…just a fucking awesome experience. I feel lucky at this point that I have had the chance to work on my craft so much, especially when I look back and see how much I didn’t know back then. Of course, there is still an ocean of stuff that I don’t know about writing now, but it’s great knowing that if you keep moving forward you will always learn more and become better.

You learn to be smarter about what you are doing. In writing. In promoting. In everything.

But as I was saying, I am dipping my toes into a different genre for my next book, eschewing the supernatural stuff for a more down to earth story in the form of a thriller.

It was always my intention to write a crime thriller. A few years ago however, I didn’t feel ready to do so. I didn’t know enough about the craft to pull a story like that off properly. So I forgot about the idea and wrote urban fantasy books instead, which put me on slightly more comfortable ground.

A few years later and I know a bit more about the craft of writing now, so I feel better able to tackle that initial story idea. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I am taking a big risk in trying to write a thriller when I’ve never wrote one before (I’ll have to fight my instincts not to bring demons and suchlike into the eventual story), but I also feel excited about the idea, which makes me feel like I can do it. And that’s enough for me to attempt it.

If an idea energizes you, then you should pursue that idea for all it’s worth. That’s as good a metric as any to work from when deciding which ideas to develop and work on, I find.

Like I said, the chances of failure are high. I have no doubt I will complete the book, but whether the finished story works or not remains to be seen. That’s where the risk factor comes from.

But I can’t think about that. I have to attack this next book like I did my previous books and believe that it will turn out the way I want it to. After that, we will just have to see what happens. At this point, my only concern is writing the best book I can write. I owe it to myself as a writer to take this risk (Christ, you would think I was attempting to climb Everest without a rope to hear me…although it kind off feels like that…strangely…still, let’s not get too overwrought about these “risks” we keep talking about, as us writers often do…maybe “trying something different” might sound less dangerous and a bit more closer to the fact).

Even if the book turns out to be a monumental failure in every respect, I will still learn a shitload from writing it and putting it out there to be judged. That in itself will bring me closer to writing something that sticks, as they say.

If I concerned myself with the consequences of writing, with how things are going to turn out in the end, I would never write a word. The most important thing for me is continuing to do the work, continuing to trust the process and doing the best that I can every time, while also improving and getting better as I go along.

The truth is, the more you write–the more books you put out there, the more books you write and learn from writing–the more chance you will have of stepping up a level and becoming more abundant in different ways, materially and personally as you keep growing as a writer.

And me personally, I can’t let fear of failure ever stand in the way of that process.

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