The only sport I pay much attention to is baseball. Baseball, I think, attracts nerds like me because a) a lot of baseball players (more so when I was a kid than today) look like they don’t work out much, and it creates this illusion that anyone can play baseball, and b) the stats. Other sports are much more physical, much more fast-paced, and you can blame a lot on the sheer magical physical capability of the athletes. In baseball you can crunch the numbers. If you think about it, baseball stats are basically Failure Stats. The best hitters in the game fail to get on base 60% of the time. The best pitchers in the game lose one-third of their games.
Baseball is beautiful. But it is a game of suffering.
So is writing fiction, babies. As a matter of fact, I sometimes think my own personal batting average for successful stories is worse than a batting average. The sheer number of failed novels in my desk drawers and on my hard drives is kind of amazing, and are so numerous they can actually be categorized:
- The Rejected: Novels I wrote, polished, submitted to someone, and was told, gently, to bury as deeply as possible. Sometimes to deny having written in the first place.
- The Single Drafted: Novels I wrote and immediately regretted, like a burrito ordered and consumed after you spent the day drinking bourbon in a dive bar with Sean Ferrell.
- The Juvenilia: There are several novels written in my formative years when I actually thought my shocking and ballsy attitudes and opinions would scandalize the world! In other words, I was an asshole, and these are novels written by an asshole.
Hell, if you did the simple math and divided every novel I wrote by every novel I would actually show to you, my success rate is pretty abysmal. This is nothing new, of course. I maybe have more completed novels in my files than some, but possibly fewer than others. Writing a novel ain’t easy to begin with. Writing one people can read without shooting themselves in the head is a whole other level of difficult. And writing one that people would pay to read, well, that’s nearly impossible.
And then it hits you: Writing is a goddamn World of Fail.
Even successful stories go through a hell of revision and feedback where people point out everything you did wrong, or didn’t do well enough. I have a feeling that if I ever wrote a book that sailed through all beta readings and the entire publishing process without any Fail, I’d have something like The Entertainment from Infinite Jest, or Monty Python’s Funniest Joke in the World. Which would be great. Because I would totally leverage that into world domination. I imagine some outfit like Halliburton would be at my door the next day with an 18-wheeler filled with diamonds and a 500-page contract for exclusive use of the novel in warfare.
Of course, when you’re living in a World of Fail, such fantasies are all you have.
The worst part is the Dan Browning: Even if you’re a successful writer who sells scads of books, you still get to Fail, and often, through the fact that all the hipster doofuses start complaining about your lack of lietrary merit or your tendency to lose control over POV throughout the story. Or that your story makes no sense even after you’ve huffed an entire tube of airplane glue in an old Taco Bell bag. You might think that doesn’t hurt our feelings, but it does. In other words, even when a writer Wins, they Fail.
And you wonder why we drink.