Cheeseburger Gothic

Charlie Stross on Failure

Posted May 10, 2013 into Writing by John Birmingham

A couple of years ago I was on a book tour and missed Charlie by a couple of hours in western Sydney. He left a treat for me at the bookshop, however. A signed copy of Singularity Sky. I enjoyed it very much. So it was a surprise to read this entry at his blog about the 'nightmarish mire of despair' that the book became for him. I'm more a slough of despond guy myself, but I can relate to a good mire of despair.

Rewind to 1996. I was living in Edinburgh, working for a web consultancy that was in the process of going bust. The year before, I'd handed in the way-overdue manuscript of "The Web Architect's Handbook", a non-fic get-rich-quick scheme originally proposed in 1993 which crashed and burned in the market because folks who weren't working 60-80 hours a week as CGI app troubleshooters got their how-to books out first. I was writing about an article a month for "Computer Shopper" (the British mag, not the Ziff-Davis title) and I'd sold one short story that year — a reprint. I was 32, I'd sold about a dozen or two short stories, signally failed to sell a novel while everyone else I knew who'd begun selling short fiction through Interzone at the same time had become a household name (Pete Hamilton, Steve Baxter, Paul McAuley ... do I need to continue?), and was having a crisis of confidence.

I totally get where he's coming from. So much of writing is a confidence trick. Like 'form' for a sportsman. You can go through the motions in a textbook fashion, but if you don't feel like you're killing it, it's gonna kill you.

I've struggled with and buried more than my fair share of projects over the years. Released a few into the wild that should never have made it as well.

"What do you do when you have a crisis of confidence in what you've seen as your vocation (write science fiction) since age 15?" asks Charlie. "You either give up completely, or you double-down".

(My thanks to Murph for the link).

13 Responses to ‘Charlie Stross on Failure’

Surtac would have you know...

Posted May 10, 2013

Remarkable timing or spooky coincidence?. I've just finished reading Charlie's post, jumped back to Google Reader to continue my daily blogwalk and find you've linked to it too.

And I agree - it's a fascinating read.

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted May 10, 2013

I realise you wouldn't put these up on a Bluntie, but maybe at a burger get together I'd love to hear which projects you think "should never have made it as well". I bet if you asked the burgers they would have a compeletely different take on this.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted May 10, 2013

Version 1 of How to be a Man. Before Flinthart rescued it.

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Bunyip is gonna tell you...

Posted May 10, 2013

Reading that, just disappeared down a TOS-1 Buratino shaped rabbit hole.

As you were...

alexmac puts forth...

Posted May 10, 2013

I too went down that rabbit hole.

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Murphy mutters...

Posted May 10, 2013

Getting a personal response from Dozois is like hitting the top ten percent.

I've got those laying around here. If only I'd moved a little faster.

Sometimes . . . it is luck. Bad and good.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted May 10, 2013

About ten years ago I suffered a serious crisis of confidence when a case I worked on for years ended up a great disappointment. Adding insult to injury, my failure was discussed online by anonymous people, many of whom did not think very highly of me due to my representation of a controversial investigative journalist. In the middle of the comments from all those experiencing the ecstasy of schadenfreude one commenter, claiming to be a farmer, attempted to console me. He said “we’ve all experienced crop failures.” I’ll never forget that simple kindness from a complete stranger.

But there is no feeling quite like the one that envelopes you when all available evidence seems to indicate that the lens with which you tried to view the future was flawed and the muse you were following wasn’t.

Matthew F. mumbles...

Posted May 10, 2013

Very eloquently put, Paul.

I've been in that place a few times over the last couple of years, with both the crop failure (when every sign pointed to a bumper season) and the broader crisis of self-definition. I've watched friends go through it too. It's ugly and scary, and no matter how many common elements there are in the experience there never seems to be a universal answer or path forward.

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Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 10, 2013

Point well taken, Paul.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Ashar mumbles...

Posted May 11, 2013

Funnily enough my crisis of confidence happened after becoming "well."

Prior to my early 30's I had been writing a number of short plays, usually for university students and friends, occasionally poetry and improvised performance for open-mic nights at some cooler pubs in Perth, WA. I was, if I may say so, fucking brilliant at play-writing. I could pour out a 20min short play in a weekend, with little to no revision except grammar and spelling.

Then I found out I lived with bipolar and PTSD (and all the crap that comes with that in a late diagnosis and from repeated trauma), which made a lot of sense looking back on my teens onwards. When I finally found medicine to alleviate the daily struggle with a body betraying the self, my ability to think around corners seemed to go up in a puff of smoke.

While the power of positive thinking can be great for mild depression, it can be outright dangerous for those with psychiatric illnesses. For me, and others, it is a very slow process. Certainly the confidence is returning, and I look forward to punching out some more scripts in the future. It certainly shaped my views of success away from concerns of monetary wealth, and more towards the role art has played over the history of humanity.

NBlob asserts...

Posted May 11, 2013

Yeah yeah, you just want to make us jealous that you're in Fiji and We are not.

Ashar would have you know...

Posted May 12, 2013

It's not that I want to make you jealous, but I must say it does make the stay here all the more lovely - oh another palm tree and gorgeous sunset...ahhhhhh

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damian is gonna tell you...

Posted May 11, 2013

Fark. I remember reading a lot of David Weber about the same time and having a very similar set of objections. Crisis of confidence since age 15? Check. Seems I took the "give up completely" approach though. Cyclone-force sigh.

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