Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fear of Failure

Years ago, when I was living in Palau, I decided to try to write a book. It was a good time to make a first attempt because there are, let's see, multiply by the integer, carry the one, subtract Oprah, 112 hours in a day when you live on a one-square-mile island in a country of 22,000 people on the equator.

Even more, there are only nine things to do in Palau. Five of those involve coming in close contact with sea snakes and the other four are eating.

And you people thought I couldn't do math.

I think I became a much better writer during that year. Typing out 95,000 words will do that. But I was young, and pretty dumb, and moderately to severely depressed, so I really didn't know what I was doing.

By the time I moved back to the United States of God Bless Sea Snakeless America, I didn't really know what to do with those 95,000 words. I did some research about how to get a book published, and I even contacted some people who were kind enough to give me feedback and advice. But that whole process was incredibly daunting and intimidating. So I just sort of walked away from it without really trying very hard.

I know you guys can't relate. None of you have ever let fear or intimidation stop you from doing anything. Not since you stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Yes, I imagine that everyone who reads Stranger is a World War II vet. Also, I know I don't say this enough, but thank you for your service.

The years started to get away from me after Palau (going on 6 years since I left the place YOU PEOPLE ARE GETTING OLD). And as my life embarked on a roller coaster of working constantly while choosing to become gay, that old project just sort of fell into my bin of Things I Wish I Would Do But I'm Too Afraid So Now I Just Let Them Make Me Feel Bad About How Big Of A Failure I Am.

I pretty much used up all of the ink in my label maker that day.

I periodically decide that I'm going to pick it back up, and figure something out, but my writing and what I think I want to put out into the world has evolved so much since 2012 that every time I read any part of that old project, it just doesn't feel like me anymore. It feels safe and jumbled and there aren't nearly enough references to Liza Minnelli.

A few months ago I was riding a spin bike at the gym, listening to some pretentious podcast, but not really paying attention to it. I was thinking about writing and how much this particular dream was weighing on me. Not really the writing aspect so much, but more everything that comes after completing a first draft. I was thinking about how daunting trying to figure out how to get something published feels. How impossible it seems.

And it just finally hit me. Who cares?

Who cares if it feels nearly impossible? What does it matter if I fail at this? Would that seriously be worse than constantly feeling like I'm not good enough to be interacting with people who stormed the beaches of Normandy?

This morning I woke up and saw that J.K. Rowling tweeted (she's this British author who wrote some children's books back in the 90s and early 2000s about a boy who finds out he's a -- oh, you know what -- just look her up if you're interested. You can probably find her works listed somewhere on the Internet). She posted a little thing to her website, offering advice to people who want to be writers.

In one section, she wrote about the feelings I described above:

"Fear of failure is the saddest reason on earth not to do what you were meant to do. I finally found the courage to start submitting my first book to agents and publishers at a time when I felt a conspicuous failure. Only then did I decide that I was going to try this one thing that I always suspected I could do, and, if it didn't work out, well, I'd faced worse and survived. 

Ultimately, wouldn't you rather be the person who actually finished the project you're dreaming about, rather than the one who talks about 'always having wanted to'?"

I like it, and I think she's right.

So recently, I started over. I have forced myself to sit down and write what I want to write. I have made myself immerse my mind in this project in a way I never really did before. And although daily I have this fear nagging me in the back of my mind that I'm not going to be good enough and I'm never going to figure out how to get anything published, it is finally being overtaken by some fatigued pride that if this doesn't work out how I dream, it won't be because I was too afraid to try.

Palau, 2013.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. And we’re behind you every step of the way.

  2. Hope is the thing with feathers my friend. This helps, you help, and even if a book deal never happens know that your writing is out there influencing people...just in a slightly shorter format. Keep writing and when your book is published I swear on the United States of God Bless Sea Snakeless America that I buy the first 50 copies and give them out to random strangers on the street like a missionary...but without a companion and and all the weird rules.

  3. I would read any book you right (within reason, let's not get too crazy)! And good for you - fear of failure has gotten me nowhere on a few things in my life is well. This is motivating me to sit down and make a plan.

  4. Will I have closure with Daniel?

  5. I read that advice by JK Rowling too, and it was pretty powerful. So glad you're taking the plunge and trying to write again! If you ever got a book published, I (and I'm pretty sure all the readers here) would buy a copy in a heartbeat.

  6. "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

    Theodore Roosevelt

    1. This is one of my favorite quotes!! I heard it read again at a recent funeral for a dearly loved Family Court Judge and pretty much the whole room was bawling. So powerful and so true.

  7. You can do it. You have succeeded at anything you have ever truly wanted to do. Dad and I would like to be your "ghost readers"! ;):)

  8. Well let's just all be glad there were no sea snakes in Normandy or that could have turned out very differently. No way I'm storming a beach with snakes around. Nope. SOME FEARS ARE VALID.

    Maybe you should write a choose your own adventure book and the outcomes are you end up naked somewhere, you end up with a pet naked mole rat, you end up in a hospital in Ukraine, or you end up stuck on an island surrounded by sea snakes. That could be fun!

  9. You're a great writer with a unique voice, Eli. There's got to be a writer's group in SLC who can help you figure out how to get published. And hey, you're already self-published -- more and more that's a more legit route. You've already found your audience -- or we found you. That's a huge step you've ALREADY taken :-)

  10. I’ve always thought you should write a book! I mean, well not always since I’ve only been reading Stranger for a couple of years. But definitely since I knew you existed, I thought you should write a book. Happy to help or answer questions or get you to the right people or tell you what NOT to do (I have lots of knowledge regarding that).

    I just released my 7th book in October.

    1. I certainly won’t turn down that offer. Would you shoot me an email?

    2. Oops, just saw this. O.o

  11. When is the book tour? I need valid reasons to wear a snuggie in public!

    I'd go to a blog/podcast tour. I know a Theatre here in Jax,fl that would be a great place to do it! 😉

    Also, your blog has been my longest relationship on the internet. I didn't even realize how long I've been reading /listening until you mention how long it has been since you left Palau.

    I have loved watching your grow and open up and that had also added in my growth as a person. Wow that statement makes me sound old!!! I'm only a few years older than you!!! WE SHARE THE SAME DECADE!

    I have also enjoyed some Stranger fame when my cat was featured as the picture of the day for using the toliet! Let me tell you I still bring that up when possible!

    Good luck on the book! Can't wait to buy it!

    1. Yes! A snuggie book signing! I'm all about that. Other people go to film festivals to stalk celebrities. I wait for the celebrities/authors to come to me (via book tours). Two of the best days of my life was when I met Leif Enger and Mark Zusak.

  12. I will totally read your book whether it ends up being self publish amazon e book or carried by pigeons or on the bestseller list!

  13. Thank you for the reminder to not give up or let fear dictate your life. I'm in the process of setting up a process and there are so many negative people trying to get me to change my mind based on fear and uncertainty, instead of being excited and supportive. It's crazy.

    Also, I've been eagerly awaiting the idea of a book from you for years! (Since Palau) Is it fiction, or non-fiction? Long or short? I hope you know that everyone is so excited and proud for you. (The I can see. I'm sure that there are a few who I can't speak for...)

  14. I'm so glad to hear this! I'm here for any advice or kicks in the butt, I've got a few published books and decades under my belt. Welcome to the crazy world of authoring! I hope you like cats. And tea. And wine. And Twitter.

    1. I would like every piece of advice you have available, please. Email me?