The Loser’s Guide To Winning — By Patrick Bryson
Our first official blog post comes from our Founder, Patrick Bryson. It is a brutally honest and open piece, but one that is also uplifting and inspiring. I hope you enjoy reading.
The Loser’s Guide To Winning
It’s a business that is built on failure. You don’t know how to write the perfect novel, and the agents and publishers you approach don’t know perfection, or even popularity, when they see it. They’re guessing. At their smartest they want something new that they’ve seen before, but it’s not their fault. There is such an oversupply of product, and the stacks of the slush-pile are so high, that one can be forgiven for not noticing the pearls that have quietly sunk into the pig-shit.
It’s our fault. For every book that is published, there are thousands that never should have been started. Think of all the creative writing classes you have been in, and how few of your contemporaries’ stories you actually admired. Now think of one you wish you had written yourself. I’m struggling to, and I’ve been in or taught more of those classes than most. Everyone might have a book within them, but it’s a good bet that their book will be crap, and that the crap will stink the same as their next door neighbour’s. Ordinary.
Whether it’s just a pleasant thing to do, or an affliction, is beside the point. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result – it’s about expecting the same result every time. We write, and we fail. The words don’t stop the bullets, they can’t convince the girl, and for ninety-nine percent of us they will never pay the bills, or even one bill. So why do it? Because we love failure. We enjoy the pain.
You get so used to the hurt that the absence of it for even the briefest of moments will seem like success. I can think of a few nights that were ache-free. Getting the examiners’ reports back for my PhD thesis, and finding out that I had passed – with no revisions required, thank you very much – or having my first few stories published, for money. Receiving an email back from my publisher, saying that my book was fantastic – that was an adrenaline injection that got me up from my desk, and sent me outside for a lap of the compound, just to walk off the excitement. I couldn’t yell from the chair where I was sitting because my colleagues in the government office where I work would have fallen off theirs.
I still had to go back to my corner a few minutes later, with a cup of water, and complete the day’s work. You don’t get to tell your boss to fuck off after signing a book contract for your first novel. You actually end up being nicer, when you see how little you will be paid, and realise that you need the job more than ever.
This brief absence of pain is so you can appreciate the texture of failure more, when it returns. The ephemeral success was a moment in front of the fire, before going back out into the storm. And it’s that way for everyone, even the big names on your shelf.
‘don’t worry,’ says Bukowski, in The Secret, ‘nobody has the beautiful lady…and nobody is exceptional or wonderful or magic, they only seem to be. it’s all a trick, an in, a con.’
When someone does appear to have staged a triumph, and is enjoying the heat of success, ‘forget it, it’s not what it seems, it’s just another act to fool the fools again.’
The perfect novel can only be written by someone else, not you. Another failure might read your story and tell you that it is perfect, but you’ll know the truth. You will remember the original vista that stretched before your mind’s eye, and can see that the cropped image you have captured on the page is not the same thing. You know where you have papered-over the cracks, plugged in some holes, and left a gap underneath the doorway. You can’t fool yourself.
But just because something is impossible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go. You have to keep trying.
What else are you going to do?
In 2009 Patrick was awarded his PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Newcastle, Australia. His thesis, Chasing the Unwritable Book, explored how identity is shaped by mental illness and the fictional possibilities it presents to the author – with a particular focus on autobiographical fiction. He is a published short story writer and essayist, with his work appearing in Southerly, Tehelka, The Times Of India, Motherland, Out of Print, Annalemma and Mascara Literary Review, while his chapter on Peter Kocan ‘The Urge to Write and the Urge to Kill’ featured in Configuring Madness, an anthology released by Rodopi Press, Oxford. His first novel, The Sad Demise Of Manpreet Singh, will be released by Hachette India in 2014. He lives and works in New Delhi.