What Have You Got to Lose?

On Not Winning.

My first blog on this new site was about heading off to an award ceremony, The Arthur Ellis Gala, sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada, a celebration of all things criminally literary, including the category of Best Juvenile/Young Adult Crime Book, for which my latest thriller The Ruinous Sweep was short-listed. Well, I fell short of taking home the prize. Congratulations to Linwood Barclay for Escape (Puffin, Canada), the second in his “Chase” series of books for kids (9+). He’s won the Arthur before for his adult fiction and will inevitably win again. He’s good. I’m a big fan.

Losing loses its sting over time. It gets easier to say what you knew all along – Hey, my book got nominated, aka noticed. I’m in the game. And while you’re at it — giving yourself a pep talk — it’s great to remember that the book lost, not you; you’re not a loser. A loser is the person who doesn’t get around to throwing their hat in the ring. You wrote a book, it got published. Yay!

The best antidote is to just get on with life. This is especially true, at the beginning of your writing career. You slave over that first manuscript. You revise it until it is as good as it can possibly be and then you begin the painful task of sending it out to find an agent, a publisher, a home. That’s a time-consuming business all on its own, or at least long periods of time are likely to drag on while you wait for a response. The very best thing you can do is not wait, in the sense of sitting around, eyes glued to the mail slot. As soon as you can, start into that most wonderfully hopeful and agreeable of all literary creations: the next book. Fill up your waking hours with a new cast of characters to care about, a new protagonist to throw to the lions and lose sleep over, as you heap conflict upon his or her head, raise the stakes, alarmingly, while all the time rooting for and strategizing toward a successful outcome and satisfying denouement. 

Become ensconced all over again in story. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the verb “ensconced” to mean, “positioned safely or comfortably, somewhere.” There is also implied the sense of barricading oneself in, in some secure place. That’s what you need. The comfort of a diverting tale, the security of knowing that as long as this one is in your hands, it has every chance in the world of being… well, of being the best damn thing ever written. Oh yes, the writing of a first draft is fraught with hardship and frustration – that’s why it’s called a “work.” But if you love writing, there is no more dependable, sheltered place than being inside a story under construction. It is just so full of potential. 

That other story — the one you finished – it’s out of your control for now. There’s nothing more you can do for it until otherwise notified. Bend your imagination toward a new task. Considering the snail’s pace of the publishing process, you’ll be so deeply inside this new struggle that the Thunk! of an SASE manuscript on the front hall floor will be only a momentary distraction. I’m waxing metaphorical here, of course; fat parcels with your address written on the front in your own hand seldom “thunk,” anymore. The rejection comes as a “ping” on your computer, announcing you’ve got mail. And if you’re smart, you’ve turned off “mail” while you’re writing. The story coming to light, coming to life, under your fingers – this is the one. What have you got to lose?

2 thoughts on “What Have You Got to Lose?

  1. More than 25 years later, (and living in 3 different countries since then) and you’re STILL helping me, inspiring me and kicking me in the butt, Tim! Well said, and – I’m a big Linwood fan too, but sorry about your ‘loss’. btw – I used ‘ensconced’ in a poem once and someone critiquing it (not you! 😉 ) said ” ‘ensconced’ makes me uncomfortable in this line” !!?????? But your C.D. def.above is EXACTLY what I was trying to portray, so you’ve even helped me on that one! Glad you’ve started this blog!


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