Fail Big? Succeed Bigger.

recite-15596--50162316-1y19p4dThe thing I’m most proud of stemmed from my biggest failure. The first book I wrote and finished (before Chasing the Sun) helped me sign with my agent, but didn’t sell. Those were some dark, depressing times for me. After five years of working on that book, I felt like I’d gone so far, but hadn’t really gone anywhere.

But there’s this story my brother-in-law once told me, and I remember absolutely none of the specifics. Just that there was a miner who went searching for gold (or was it oil?) for years and years and years, looking in countless places, digging deeper and deeper each time, only to find nothing. He finally gave up. He decided he’d failed. Later, it turned out that at the last place he’d tried, if only he’d just gone a little deeper, he would’ve struck gold.

So I thought about that. And then, around that same time in July of 2011, I saw this Tweet:

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And then I had a chance to speak with the author Jamie Ford, who asked me how things were going. You’re so close, he said. You don’t even realize how close you are, but you are.

About a month later, I started writing again. I tell people that sometimes, and it sounds simple: my first book didn’t sell, so I wrote another one. But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done for myself. More than the book itself, I’m proud of the fact that I even wrote it. I’m even more grateful for the people who helped me get to that point. Because that’s the thing about failure: even if we crawl out of it alone, we have to pull our strength from somewhere.

What gives you strength to keep going when you’re ready to quit?

Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at

14 Replies to “Fail Big? Succeed Bigger.”

  1. Well said! Writing another book after one doesn’t land an agent, or doesn’t get published, or gets published but doesn’t sell well… these are the things that differentiate a career writer from someone who dabbles, in my opinion.

  2. I feel like I’m in a steadier place than I have been because of my writing community. Early on, I didn’t have many people to talk to about the challenges. I’d give up for months at a time. It’s not like I still don’t have black moments, but they don’t seem to last as long or sink as low.

    1. SO true! There are so many people in the writing community who help keep me going. Earlier on, it was just me, and no one else to really hold me accountable or keep me motivated when I faltered. I’ll never again understand the whole “writing is a lonely endeavor” thing.

  3. Do I remember Jamie telling you that? Was that on a Hangout? Or am I imagining it? Regardless…

    Natalia, I am SO glad that you kept going. So proud of you, too. I know how hard this can be. But CHASING THE SUN is almost here, and I can’t wait!

  4. I love Brenda Copeland’s tweet. Love it. Love your story of perseverance (and have some firsthand experience there — ha ha). I had the great opportunity to meet and speak with Jamie Ford, too. Wonderful person – witty, positive, and so encouraging to other writers. And look at you now .. with that beautiful cover and a pub date right around the corner!

  5. My story is a lot like yours – I wrote four full manuscripts before the one that sold, and after the fourth one failed to land an agent, I went through a long, dark tea-time of the soul. I knew I couldn’t quit, but I despaired of ever finding success. Like you, I was closer than I knew – those darkest days were the summer of 2011 – I signed my agent in October 2011 and had a book deal in February of 2012. These are wise words you’ve offered this week, and I hope all the other “almost-there” authors read them and take heart.

  6. Wise words! Yes, failure means we are trying. I tell my kids constantly that it’s not my job to make things perfect for them. It’s my job to be there for them when THEY try to do something and fail. I am there to remind them that strength and gumption can’t be taught by someone. I can’t breathe self-esteem into them like a balloon. They get it by picking themselves up and gaining the confidence that next time, they won’t fall as hard.

    As cliche as it is, failure means you’re doing something!

    Personally, coming from the TV and corporate blogging world, my goal is to be rejected by someone big at least once a week. 🙂

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