Success and Failure



So my story “Masks,” from The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors volume 1 has been chosen by Ellen Datlow for The best Horror of the Year volume 11 which I’m blown away by. It’s like going to a party and being surrounded by beautiful, famous people and wondering why you’re there, why you were invited. I mean my story is a peer with stories by Joe Hill? Michael Marshall Smith? Rob Shearman? etc. That’s pretty awesome, as in: adjective. causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.

Fear number one is Imposter Syndrome. Skip back to the previous paragraph and it’s right there – like being invited to a party… I’m thinly published. I have a collection of short stories and two novels that have failed to make a splash. OK the collection was shortlisted for the BFA, but I’ve been telling myself that was a fluke. It had to be right? I’m an imposter – they’ll find me out some day… ever since it was shortlisted I have been suffering from Fear number two.

Fear number two is fear of success. Well not of success per se, of the consequences of success. That people will read my stuff and have opinions. Crazy right? Isn’t that why we’re supposed to write – for people to read it? And people have subjective value opinions about any media they consume. I mean I do, I have very definite opinions of what I like and don’t like (as opposed to what is good and what is bad, which before I was a critic who wrote a review blog for several years I had mixed up).

Closely following fear number two is fear number three – fear of failure. What if this is it? What if nothing I write will ever be this good again, or catch the eye of the right person at the right time, or be published, be read, be liked?

In Scarlett Thomas’s Monkeys with Typrewriters she mentions in passing that most, if not all, writers suffer anxiety and a touch of depression – is that a function of the writing or is the writing a function of it? And there I go – still reading any writing books I can get my hands on, still waiting to read “the advice” that will make me a “real writer” – feeling that old fear number one again.

I read how Ellen chooses the stories, with her 30 odd years of experience; “For more than three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror,” says Nightshade who publish the anthologies. “I read all the short fiction I’m aware of in any given year,” Ellen says. “As I read, I write down the stories I like, and the ones I really like, I mark with an asterisk… Then, toward the end of the year, I start rereading those marked stories. By this point I have ended up with at least twice the number of stories I can fit in the book, so my job is culling. By the time I’m done, I might have read some stories three or four times. If I still love them after that many readings I know they’re what I would consider the best of the year.”

Read the “praise for the Best Horror” blurbs on Nightshades page  The New York Times? Publisher’s weekly? That sound you just heard? It was my very audible gulp. People will read my work and they’ll have opinions and it’s possible they will look for more and that will lead to them reading my work and having opinions. Gulp.

Talking of failure, I’ve been failing to write my novel Certainty of Dust for a year or so – I told myself last year it was because I’d been editing a lot. I don’t have that excuse this year (despite editing another anthology with Grimbold Books) and I’ve got to the part I always get to where I need to revisit the planning.

I usually write a bare bones outline – bullet points and random brain dump – and then dive in with excitement (and a little trepidation). Then what’s happened for the last two novels has happened again, I’ve reached a little over 20,000 words and realised that the plan is inadequate, the brain dump has lots of extraneous details that’s not needed and the story isn’t what I thought it was about when I started. And so, with the previous two novels, I have re-planned, sucked it up and started again. For this one? I’m loathe to do that. And it comes from the underlying problem that is beneath fears one, two and three: Expectation.

Knowing that I need to re-plan I’ve been self-sabotaging – I’m stuck, I tell myself, although I know that I reached the same point previously with the other novels and how I can surmount that issue. Massive procrastination ensued. What if it’s a failure and I never write another? Well, what if it is? I’ll just write short stories, or a non-fiction book, or blog posts, or poetry or a play, a graphic novel, a TV or film script. Because you know what? It seems that I *am* a writer and writers write… bravery is not about not feeling fear, it’s about feeling fear but doing the thing anyway. Time for me to be brave!








Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

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