broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Crash, burn, recover

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, work on November 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

When was the last time you failed?

The sort of shit-storm tempting you back into bed for a week, whimpering?

Crash

Crash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some recent challenges include:

– An editor killed my story — which cost me $2,200 in budgeted-for and relied-upon income.

One of the dirty secrets of journalism is that, no matter your skills level, some of your stories get “killed” — i.e. they are commissioned, a contract signed, a fee and deadline agreed upon and the editor can simply flap his or her hand and decide “it doesn’t work.” You don’t get to stiff the airline of its fee if the plane is dirty, crowded or late. You don’t get to pay your plumber, dentist or barber a fraction of their fee because…you feel like it. It’s almost always a surprise and it’s expensive and very few of us can just re-fill a four or five-figure income hole in a flash.

– My book proposal didn’t sell

My agent was upbeat and excited. They always are, at the start. But after the rejections piled up, it became clear to both of us this was a no-go. Editors who loved it, and there were a few, couldn’t sell it to the rest of their staff. I spent a year gathering the information and sources for it, and months writing and polishing it. Tant pis, mes chers, tant pis.

– Another editor decided to turn a 2,000-word story with five sources into…captions

That’s a really crappy first in my career. They’re going to pay the original fee, but there’s another piece to that story — having to explain to my patient and helpful sources I interviewed back in August that all the time they spent being interviewed by me is basically wasted. I was so gobsmacked I didn’t argue the point with the editor. Preserving that relationship has meant sucking up a lot of frustration.

– We got whacked with a surprise income tax bill, a big one

We married in September 2011 and my new husband changed the witholding of his income. To…not enough. Holy shit. Add that pile of debt to the kitchen over-run.

– Journalism’s fees remain stubbornly low, stagnant or falling

Everywhere in journalism today, writing has really become just one more commodity, like gas or orange juice. Cheapest wins. I have to fight harder with every single editor on every assignment for a decent contract and higher fees. I hate feeling embattled. It doesn’t build great client relationships, but feeling taken advantage of doesn’t work either. My costs are rising almost every month, but my income will only rise as much as I position myself and argue effectively for my value.

On the plus side of the ledger:

– My individual coaching and webinars have found favor

This is a new venture and one I’m enjoying. When I lost that $2,200 overnight, I vowed to make it up through my own efforts. The hell with snotty editors. I’ve almost done so, thanks to the enthusiasm of students in Chicago, Connecticut, Brooklyn, upstate New York, New Zealand, Australia, Virginia and San Francisco. Thank you! I’ve missed teaching and the pleasure of helping others. One student told me she was having “aha!” moments. I hope you’ll sign up, too!

-- I made a contact with a Very Big Magazine’s top editor, one I’ve wanted to write for for a decade

Some magazines feel like Everest, even to someone with a lot of great experience. They’re career-changers. They pay a lot of money. At a recent lunch with someone I met at a party, I discovered she’s related to a top editor there and I was bold enough to ask for an introduction and she made it.

– Reaching out to new clients in PR has shown me there’s some significant enthusiasm out there for my skills

Of the first three local agencies I contacted, two showed immediate interest.

– I’m trying out new ideas and new markets

Next week, I’m meeting with a younger writer who’s broken into corporate writing and making boatloads of cash from it. It’s an interesting lesson in networking with people much younger, as we’re all working in slightly different says, some more lucrative and less visible, some more prestigious but poorly-paid.

– My agent likes my new book idea

Book ideas are difficult. You have to be able to create a narrative arc with 80,000+ words and be able to persuade a publisher to pony up an advance you can actually live on. But from the embers of the still-cooling rejected proposal came this more focused, more positive iteration of one of the ideas in it. Now I have to go…sigh…write another proposal.

People love to think that writing is a cool, fun easy way to make money. You stay home in your PJs, crank out some copy, then head off to Bali for a few months.

I wish!

The reality is a constant hustle and scramble: for new clients, new markets, negotiating better pay and treatment, finding and wrangling sources for your stories…

Crashing is nasty, (and inevitable.)

But there’s no time to sit and snuffle.

Bills, baby, bills!

Does it ever get (much) easier?

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, domestic life, education, family, journalism, life, Media, work on May 27, 2013 at 4:40 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I think there’s a comforting fantasy that being “successful” = easy.

As in, life suddenly smooths out into something calm, cool, stress-free.

Awesome! Sign me the hell up!

While in Tucson, I’ve gotten to know some of the Institute students, as well as some of the Times and Boston Globe staffers here working with them. In a long and personal conversation with one local student, a 21-year-old man who is already well-launched in journalism, he wondered why I still struggle.

Aren’t I successful?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see “success” as a specific and final destination, and if it is, I wonder if that’s really the best way to look at it.

He asked me to define success. (No pressure!) My answer was very different from what it would have been in my 20s (career!), 30s (marriage!), 40s (finding a new partner/husband). As readers of this blog well know, I tend to be driven, ambitious and obsessive.

But success for me today looks quite different. It’s the hard-earned blend of a healthy retirement fund, a lovely second husband, good friends, health, a nice home and — oh, yeah — work! That order surprised me even as I wrote it, but the sub-conscious is a powerful little thing, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s being Canadian or being a Baby Boomer or having lived in five countries or being a journalist whose industry is “in disruption” — (fucking total chaos is more like it!) But I never expect life to be easy.

I wish it were easier, certainly. Struggle is wearying and distracting. Struggle without any visible, measurable progress is deeply dispiriting.

But just because something is difficult — your friendships, marriage, school, work, workouts — doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.

It doesn’t mean you’re not succeeding.

I suspect that most of us rarely publicly admit to struggle; it’s not sexy or slick and it can make us appear ill-prepared or incompetent or dis-organized.

I call bullshit.

Life is sometime just really damn hard. The more we’re willing to be, (optimistically, resourcefully), candid about this with one another, the easier it gets, because then people with wisdom can help (some of them) and our struggle diminishes.

Not everyone is kind or compassionate, of course. But the people who sneer at the notion of struggle, glibly insisting that their path to glory has been 100 percent smooth, are usually lying — or their path is short, flat and well-paved, if not well-funded by others.

Ignore them.

One of the editors here said something to me at breakfast I found helpful and comforting. When I told her how many of us in this industry, certainly those over 40, are scrambling to “reinvent” ourselves, she suggested that this struggle, and it really is a struggle, is something attractive, not repellent.

Not if you’re about to lose your home and plunge into destitution, but having to figure stuff out, no matter if you’re 21 or 71, keeps us alive and attentive and connected and paying attention.

I generally enjoy the challenges of my work and life. I’m easily bored. I like to grow and acquire new skills. I like to test myself and see how many new things I can cram into my head.

As soon as I can easily clear one bar — (the high jump kind, not the alcoholic kind!) — I usually raise it by finding something new and tough to learn and potentially get better at. A life spent coasting, happily resting on one’s laurels, is just not very appealing to me.

(This might be something that runs in my family; my Dad turns 84 in a few weeks and plans to go sky-diving to celebrate.)

How about you?

Does struggle invigorate or annoy you?

NOTE: I leave today — computer-free! — for five days travel and into the Grand Canyon. So if your comments go unanswered until Friday, please don’t despair.

Jose may post a pre-written few things in my absence, or offer a guest blog of his own.

Play nice!

Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, life, Media, work on April 5, 2013 at 12:28 am

It’s a normal, if messy, part of every working day. Every single person who hopes to earn a living as a writer needs to memorize it.

Courage is a muscle: use it or lose it.

If you never show/try to sell your work, how can you determine its wider appeal?

Yes, you will almost certainly be rejected. Possibly many times. Assume so!

Surely by now you’ve all heard how many times billionaire author J.K. Rowling was rejected when she first sent out “Harry Potter”?

Writer's Stop

Writer’s Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)

Here’s a list of 11 others who had their butts kicked hard before they became best-sellers.

And here’s a great post of 25 things writers need to know about it from writer Chuck Wendig’s blog on the same subject:

2. Penmonkey Darwinism In Action

Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better…Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?

3. This, Then, Is The Value Of The Gatekeeper

Hate the autocracy of the kept gates all you like, but the forge of rejection purifies us (provided it doesn’t burn us down to a fluffy pile of cinder). The writer learns so much from rejection about himself, his work, the market, the business. Even authors who choose to self-publish should, from time to time, submit themselves to the scraping talons and biting beaks of the raptors of rejection. Writers who have never experienced rejection are no different than children who get awards for everything they do: they have already found themselves tap-dancing at the top of the “I’m-So-Special” mountain, never having to climb through snow and karate chop leopards to get there.

I’ve added the bold and italics here…

Writer's Block 1

Writer’s Block 1 (Photo credit: OkayCityNate)

So, my question to all of you is why you are so damn scared of being rejected? A few theories.

Because having your work rejected seems, for some of you, to really mean:

I  have no talent

Entirely possible. OMG. Did she just say that! Yes, I did. Because, despite what your friends and sweetie and Mom have told you your whole life, maybe you are really just not very good at the thing you are absolutely determined you must be good at. (Or what? Or what? Then what happens?) Stop being a Special Snowflake, already!

I’m such a loser!

Maybe. Maybe not. If you are ever going to survive being a writer you must do this: find a way to separate you from your work. You are not your work. (Here’s a truly disgusting analogy: we all use the toilet and most of us excrete waste every day. It is a product of our bodies. But we do realize that it is not us.) In other words, being rejected may make you feel like shit. You, however, are not shit!

I just wasted all that $$$$$$$$$ on getting my MFA

Can’t help you with that one. I’ve avoided any formal post-graduate education because I’m too damn cheap. If you want to spend a ton of money developing your skills, great. But if you’re looking for serious financial ROI on an MFA, I’d say you’re a little out of touch with the marketplace.

The competition is way too big/famous/established

Here’s the thing we never say out loud. If you’re a total newbie, you’re not my competition! Nor am I yours. Your ego wants to think we’re equal, but we’re not. You will be paid less than I will. (Probably.) I’ve earned it, over decades of consistently good work. You’re still earning it.

If you write about science or babies or science fiction, you’re not my competitor, nor am I yours! I sometimes think of the writers’ marketplace the way an air traffic controller sees the thousands of planes in the air. They never (thank God!) collide. Because they are all on slightly different trajectories.

Stop freaking out about all the other writers out there. Just go be better than they are. (Maybe that means being better at going to a few select conferences and finding some people to help and advise you. Not just banging away all alone at your keyboard.)

I’m scared my email or phone call will be ignored

Bet on it! Count on it! You are not (just) a writer or artist. You’re are a salesperson, hoping to sell your work to people (agents, editors) who’ve quite possibly never heard of you and couldn’t care less if you ever succeed. Be prepared to be more persistent than you ever thought you might possibly ever have to be to get to the right/powerful people who will get your career going. Then double it. Now triple it.

I hate competing

Waaaaaaah! It’s a crowded marketplace. Go big or go home.

But I’m really scared

Of what? Seriously. Of what? Creative failure does not = terrifying medical diagnosis. CF does not = end of your marriage. CF does not = your dog/cat/guinea pig just died. (A friend of mine in London, a super-successful young photographer, is mourning the loss of her guinea pig.)

It is ultimately both self-defeating and self-indulgent to sit in the corner and be too scared to get into the game. We’re all scared, damn it!

Every freaking time I turn in a story I’m still scared the editor will: hate it, not pay me, never use me again and tell everyone s/he knows that I am an incompetent hack. Hey, it can happen.

Then I hit “send.”

I will never be good enough to sell my work

Maybe not. Or maybe so. Maybe you’re trying to sell to the wrong people, or at the wrong time. (i.e. your skills are not yet good enough to compete with all the other people doing that right now.)

It’s depressing being rejected all the time

Which is why God invented martinis, puppies and very good sex. You need to feel really happy at least 63.6 percent of the time in order to deal with the nasty reality of rejection. It hurts. It really does.

I hate my life and being rejected only makes it worse

This is the real problem. I guarantee it — if you are really happy with other aspects of your life, then the endless frustration of trying to sell your work will be annoying and tiring, but it won’t kill you or make you lie in a corner in the fetal position weeping. If it does, you are placing way too much emphasis on your work. Deal with that instead.

But my blog followers love me!

Of course they do, sweetie. Your work is free. It costs them zero social, political or financial capital to read and adore you. Now go find someone to lay their reputation on the line for you…

No one will ever know my name

Pshaw. Go do some volunteer work for a year or so. Join a faith community and show up. Join a committee. Sit on a board. There’s this narcissistic fantasy that Being A Writer means everyone knows you and cares deeply about you. They don’t! You’ll find much deeper satisfaction and happiness from being a valued member of a community of people who don’t give a shit how much copy you sold this week. Get over it.

No one will ever admire or respect me

I think this is a fundamental, unacknowledged and undiscussed part of why people are SO freaked out by rejection. Since when (really) is rejection 100 percent final? You’re reading the blog of someone who applied eight times to the Globe and Mail before being hired. Who interviewed three times at Newsweek and never got hired.

No one will ever know how great I could have become

This is such self-indulgent bullshit. You either want it more than anything, or you don’t.

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

I will starve to death and live under a bridge in a cardboard box

I doubt it. Get a day job and keep it as long as you have to. Or make the leap of faith (with six months’ expenses in the bank and no debt. And, ideally, no dependents.) Those of us who have leaped have little patience for the endless hand-wringers.

I have nothing new or fresh to offer

Really? Then why do you want to bother?

No one wants to work with me

EQ (emotional intelligence) is the new black. EQ is the new IQ. If you’ve grown up in the U.S. in an affluent community (and many of you did not), then being really smart is often deemed the most important thing you can be. Wrong! Being someone able to get along really well within seconds with a wide range of people who are very different from you is going to move your career along a lot faster and further than only hanging with people who drive the same car and went to the same college(s.)

No one wants to help me succeed

Really? What sort of person are you? A taker, giver or matcher? Are you a selfish little wretch who rarely, if ever, returns calls or emails? Who has yet to write (yes, really) a hand-written thank-you note on very good paper and sent it through the mail to someone who gave you an interview or mentored you? There’s an inverse relationship between how greedy you are and how much anyone is interested in helping you be even more greedy.

Everyone else is doing great!

As if! The effect of Facebook on millions of fragile egos — mine included — is to make us all feel Utterly Inadequate all the fucking time. Just don’t read all those perky, upbeat, how-great-my-life-is status updates!

Who actually posts: “I hate my agent. S/he never returns my calls. My book isn’t selling. I’m living on credit cards. I owe $10,000 to American Express and everyone is paying me late.” They should. Because that’s all too often the Glamorous Reality of being a writer.

Now go kick some butt, my dears!

Related articles

The value of doing something really badly

In aging, behavior, business, children, culture, education, life on August 22, 2012 at 12:04 am
English: The picture being uploaded is a from ...

English: The picture being uploaded is a from Evergreen Golf – Driving Range located in Martinsburg, Wv (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When was the last time you tried something new — making an omelet, writing a screenplay, drawing your dog?

Were the results really awful?

What did you do next?

I bet some of you wailed in (premature) despair: “I suck! I am the world’s worst cook/screenwriter/artist!” And possibly swore that was the last time you would road-test that particular patch of hell.

But I think there’s tremendous inherent value in doing something very poorly. Because, unless you’re an absolute genius (ooooh, lucky you!) you will not be amazing at pretty much anything new right out of the gate.

So, being lousy at something doesn’t mean you’re always going to be lousy. It means you’re a beginner. If you don’t indulge in the ego massage of frustration, (says the chick who once threw her fencing helmet across the salle), you’re bound to start getting better if you keep at it.

Babies fall down a lot when they start walking. It’s a new skill.

They don’t form complete lucid sentences when they begin speaking, nor do we expect them to. It’s a new skill.

When I took up fencing in my early 30s, when I moved to New York and didn’t have a job and didn’t know anyone beyond my fiance, I was pretty lousy at it for a while. Being a driven, stubborn perfectionist, (in New York, the equivalent of having a pulse), I did not take kindly to being shitty at something.

I hadn’t sucked at anything in ages.

One night, worn out and sore and deeply frustrated by my lack of progress, I went and wept in a stairwell. I never cry. I didn’t come back to class for about a month. Then, to my coach’s surprise, I did. A two-time Olympian, he knows how hard it is to get good at fencing. To get really good at anything.

I needed to get comfortable with “failure”, to dredge up the necessary humility to learn something new, and do it poorly for a while until I improved. Or gave up.

But I very rarely give up. For the next four years, I was a nationally ranked saber fencer, knocked out at nationals each year just before the final eight. I learned a great deal about myself in those years, most of it about mental blocks and anger and what a toxic waste of time it is to beat yourself up for being lousy at something.

Who isn’t?

This past weekend, I suggested to my husband, an avid golfer, we go to the driving range. He couldn’t believe his ears. My standard line is that I hate golf.

I haven’t learned a new skill in far too long, so I had him teach me as we ploughed through a large bucket of balls.

Some of my swings were so shockingly bad that I didn’t even get near the ball. I’m a highly athletic person, still, with terrific hand-eye coordination. So I cursed and sulked a bit.

Then I took a long deep breath and reminded myself that I had deliberately chosen the exercise of doing something completely new and unfamiliar.

In my work life, as a full-time freelance writer, I’m expected to be excellent all the damn time. I need the relief of being awful. To try new stuff out in privacy. To see if I can still learn, and how I’ll handle the frustrations that come with that process.

So, when I whacked that ball soaring into the air, landing a satisfying 150 yards away, I was ecstatic. Then I did it again. And again.

I was wildly inconsistent.

That’s what it means to be a beginner, a learner.

In an era of rushrushrushrushallthetime! we often don’t allow ourselves, (or our sweeties or our kids), the luxury of failure and experimentation. Of being a beginner.

High school students feel tremendous pressure to get good grades to get into the right college, where they feel tremendous pressure to choose only the classes they know will get them the high grades to get them into the right grad or professional program and into the right job and…On it goes.

We’re squeaking our lives away in a hamster wheel of perfection.

When was the last time you savored being lousy at something you’re simply new at?

Are you still willing to be a bumbling beginner?

Your life looks so much better than mine

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, women, work on July 8, 2012 at 1:01 am
Portrait of John Jennings Esq., his Brother an...

Portrait of John Jennings Esq., his Brother and Sister-in-Law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a great essay from Salon:

“We bought a new house,” my older sister said a few months ago, in one of our rare phone conversations.

“I’m so happy for you,” I said, though I’m sure the octaves and intonation were off. “You deserve it.” And she does. My sister has worked tirelessly ever since I can remember. Unlike me, she’s always been responsible, never leaving a job before accepting another, and certainly never leaving a job and then, instead of finding new employment, flying to Southeast Asia and staying for three months.

“We’re finally going to live in a grown-up house,” she continued. (By “we” she meant her two girls, ages 4 and 7, and my photogenic, equally successful brother-in-law.)

I loved this piece because it unpacks what we sometimes feel but rarely say out loud: I’m jealous, dammit! I want your life(style)/income/husband/wife/house/country house/cottage/car(s)/job/body/wardrobe/kids.

I want to feel like I’ve made it!

And I don’t.

Do I?

House-sitting for a friend was an eye-opening experience: a lovely, huge rear garden shaded by towering pines; a large swimming pool; multiple bedrooms; a home office; enormous closets; a washer and dryer unshared with others. I’ve never lived in a house with so many accoutrements.

She makes more money than I do, and I’m certain her husband significantly out-earns mine.

So, it’s comparing apples and oranges, right?

I’m hardly lazy, but I don’t work nights and weekends and really don’t want to, even if (which it could) it doubled my income. I take as much time off every year, and travel as far away, as I can afford.

I also chose the wrong industry for big wages — journalism — which pays, at the very top, in print, what 24-year-olds earn in their first year in corporate law or their Wall St. annual bonus. If you make it as a writer, you can make some very big bucks.

But if you don’t, you wonder what you did so wrong…

I avoided sibling rivalry by not having any, then, as the only child of my parents’ 13-year marriage. But I also have two younger half-brothers, one 10 years my junior, the other 23 years younger than I.

My 10-years-younger brother drives a very sexy shiny new car and owns a large house. He also lives in an airplane, traveling the world selling the arcane-but-popular software solution his company created.

Jealous? Moi? Well, yes, actually.

But my brother has a totally different skill set and works in a burgeoning field. He’s also been willing to risk his savings  to build his business and has also won a ton of VC cash.

My much-younger brother also travels the world, doing policy work so sensitive he needs a security clearance from the American government.

My father’s partner, a woman I really like and admire, has super-accomplished adult kids a bit younger than I am. One is married to a gazillionaire and speaks fluent Chinese. Oy.

I like feeling I’m doing OK. But, by many conventional measures, I’m not. People my age own and run major corporations or universities. They boast about their kids and grandkids; we have neither. They look like grown-ups while I often feel (and am, happily, mistaken for) a decade or so younger.

So — which is it?

Life is cool? Life sucks?

It’s too easy to look at other lives and find the flaws in our own.

My 10-years-younger brother, when I was once — as I often do — flagellating myself for my relative lack of success, pointed out that my generation had a hell of a lot more competition for jobs and a lot worse economy within which to get one, or several.

It’s all relative…given that millions of people in this world survive on less than $1 a day in income. The challenge is to remember this, not to focus on the in(s)anity of the material wealth flaunted before our eyes, by friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, let alone the mass media.

Times are tough, and with growing income inequality — with American CEOs typically pulling in 475 times the pay of their least-paid workers — it’s getting even uglier.

Do you find yourself feeling envious of others’ success?

Do you compare yourself to more successful/settled siblings?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,190 other followers