On Failure (and my fear of it)

by Smartie on February 15, 2013

Why yes, I am a chicken. Why, yes, I am a chicken.


I’ve been working in NYC theater for something like 17 years. I have seen a lot of “failures.”

Let me first define my use of failure:
The reviews were awful, to the point of career damaging
The show didn’t find an audience, and the actors played to audiences of one or two
The artists/company lost their total investment (and then some)

Now, the companies may not have seen that as failure. I worked with one group whose response was “hey we don’t care about the money, we’re making art!” And the bad reviews would just roll off their back and they were out there and doing it and “failing” spectacularly and loving every minute.

But for many companies, they felt the failure. Some handled it better than others. Many handled it poorly.

Personally, failure scares the shit out of me. In my professional life, I take care to only bring on board clients I think I can help succeed. Not every show will get stellar reviews, but I want them to get reviewed full stop. This means I read scripts, survey the creative team, and, most importantly, get a clear idea of what their expectations are for press. If it feels like I can help them succeed, I take it on. If not, I pass. Failures literally keep me up at night. And I am the type of person who needs my sleep.

Now here comes a lot of people do not know about me. I used to write plays. Then I started working with the press, and critics, and there was simply too much opportunity for failure. The idea that my work would be held up to such critical scrutiny, that my writing career was make or break by a group of strangers… Well, cold sweats and barfing. So I stopped writing. It was more comfortable.

Over the years, I’d start and stop a number of writing projects. But then about a year and a half ago, I started writing seriously. Not plays, no way. Theater is still very much a business that is frighteningly make-or-break on critical response. So, I wrote a novel in a genre where success is free of critical judgment–by the “professional” critics anyway. It’s about what resonates with the readers, not what a media outlet decides is “of the moment.”

Of course, I am still scared of failure. But it has been out to beta readers, and the feedback so far has been wonderful and thoughtful and even the criticisms are easier to take now than they were 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps it’s because my professional career is spent dealing with critics and criticism that I don’t take it as personally. It’s probably a mix of both.

So this partially explains my blogging absence. I’ve been very busy writing! But, I have also spent the past three months starting and deleting this post, because I fear sharing what I have done.

So, now that I have come clean, talking about this should be easier going forward, right? So, I am going to blog about my experience releasing this book as a self publishing venture–the good, the bad, the ugly.

It is definitely going to be an interesting experience for me (not to mention difficult–I really loathe promoting myself). Well, out of the frying pan, as they say.

Here. We. Go.


Philip Dorian February 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm

We all fear failure to some extent, but my goodness: scares the shit out of you? and keeps you up at night?
We really do need to get together for a drink, girl.

I’ll be interested in following your stuff on here…

Smartie February 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Thanks, Phil. I’m being only slightly dramatic. Sad, right?

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