by Mike MacLean
In 1999, Freaks and Geeks was one of the best shows on television. It was a heartwarming coming of age story full of wit, intelligence, and sincerity. So of course, NBC cancelled Freaks in its first season.
It was sad news. But watching the episodes, witnessing the raw talent and charisma on screen, I just knew I’d see more of these kids.
Yet still, I wonder how James Franco took it when the show was cancelled. Did he feel like his big chance had slipped through his fingers, that he’d never get another opportunity to live his dream? Or did he know something better would roll his way-something like the Spiderman movies, some of the biggest grossing blockbusters of all time.
Or how about Jason Segel? After being dropped, did he dare to imagine himself succeeding on network television? Could he have guessed a hit show like How I Met Your Mother was on the horizon.
Or Seth Rogen? Before stealing scenes from Steve Carell in the 40 Year Old Virgin, did he picture himself waiting tables? Did he think his opportunities would shrivel on the vine, or did he know he’d someday be a leading man in upcoming movies like Knocked Up?
The hope is that good writers put everything they have into their work, just as the young actors of Freaks and Geeks had. So what happens when you try your best and come up short? What happens when your "big chance" doesn’t pan out?
Giving up would be the easiest option, and possibly the sanest. After all, there are thousands of aspiring writers out there, and only so many book deals to go around. So why not throw in the towel?
For me, the answer is simple. Throw in the towel and you’ll never know what the next round has in store for you. Just ask the cast of Freaks and Geeks.
So how about it, Murderati readers–has a writing failure ever led you someplace unexpected? Has a lost opportunity ever turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
Great question, Mike, and yes, absolutely.
A few years ago I wrote a script and right away got my absolute first choice as director attached, the great Brad Anderson. It was a joy to work with this brilliant man – I finally thought I was going to have a movie made as good and better as I’d dreamed it could be.
Then the producers didn’t move fast enough on financing and we lost him to another movie.
I was too heartsick to start the process over again. Instead, I took the script back and wrote it as a novel, my very first attempt at the novel thing.
That novel was THE HARROWING.
I had my awesome book agent and two-book deal with St. Martin’s within a month of sending the manuscript out. THE HARROWING was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for Best First Novel. My second novel comes out this winter.
This is a great post and a great question because it’s an absolute reminder that sometimes when things aren’t going right you just have to take a step sideways.
Can’t wait to read other responses, because it’s a lesson we all could use, pretty much every day.
I give up about once a year. In fact, I had my ‘I give up’ moment last week, so I should be good for at least another 12 months. I’m still waiting for my ‘blessing in disguise’. It’s out there. Maybe I’ll see it soon.
Excellent post. Thanks.
That’s a great story. If I were a betting man, I’d wager things will come full circle for THE HARROWING. Someday we’ll see it on screen, and then you’ll have the best of both worlds.
You’re not alone. A lot of us are still waiting for the blessing in disguise. Instead of thinking that you give up writing once a year, maybe you should focus on the fresh starts, when you begin writing again.
I always am surprised when someone gives up. I can understand it, but I’m surprised. I would think that writing is in your blood and you would have to keep on writing, keep on trying, keep on going, whether publication is out there or not.
You should check out some of the “Overnight Success?” columns collected by David Montgomery.
Here’s the link to mine:
The gist of it:
BAD THRILLER turns into a BAD LITERARY BOOK turns into a PUBLISHABLE MYSTERY SERIES. The whole journey took 15 years. I’m a slow learner.
I kept trying to respond this morning and couldn’t quite get the words out – and then realized it’s b/c I don’t think of much as failure.
For me, when something writing-wise (or actually most anything) doesn’t work the way I anticipate, I see it more as another step along the bigger path. One I don’t know yet but will if I keep walking.
Many times in my life things have come around in very different ways than I expected, and it’s the same with writing. Both in the day-to-day writing process of each page of each ms to the bigger picture “career” stuff.
I do my best and then rely an enormous amount on synchronicity and serendipity. 🙂
Your post reminds me of a car commercial that’s on air right now. Can’t remember the brand (and that probably makes it bad advertising), but the voiceover says something like, “We’re all going to fall. Just make sure you fall forward.”
Here’s to not giving up.
Thoughts of giving up hit often here.
But I can’t — in part, because of what you wrote, Mike, about not knowing what’s around the next corner
— in part, because I’ve worked to cultivate optimism in all aspects of my life (even as I fight a natural tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios)
— in part, because I’d never forgive myself for trying so hard and NOT giving it my all . . . and I’ve still got a lot more to give.
Thank you for this thought-provoking post.
I’m with Billie. There’s no such thing as failure in my house. There are setbacks, and disappointments, and head banging against the wall when things don’t go as planned. But that’s life, isn’t it? Failure, I think, is a whole different concept that I can’t define very well in this context. I guess it’s like porn, I know it when I see it.
And to second Louise, here’s to not giving up.
I should have put quotation marks around the word FAILURE. In essence the “failures” are, as Billie put it, steps along a bigger path. But sometimes it’s hard to see those steps in the moment.
After my first publishing deal, I tried to sell two more pieces to the publisher. They were both kicked back with a giant no thanks. For a year and a half, I questioned whether I should continue writing. Finally I decided to write something for me with no eye toward the market. A year later I landed a three book deal. I should’ve tried writing for myself a LONG time ago. 🙂
I’m an almost lifelong fan of mystery fiction, and can remember being a fan of Saint stories around the age of nine. In 1992, I submitted a proposal for a western novel to an Australian publisher, who replied that they had drawers full of them and were not interested in obtaining more for years to come. So I sent the book to Robert Hale Ltd in London, and it became my first western as by Chap O’Keefe. Since then I’ve written 18 more, all of which Hale have accepted for their Black Horse Western series. I also run an online magazine. In the current March-May edition, the article “Detectives in Cowboy Boots” explores genre crossovers.
Although I didn’t think the animated movie, “Meet the Robinson’s” had much to offer, it did have the concept of an applauded “brilliant failure” deserving recognition as much as our successes.
Hell, I’ve had two small presses go under before the contracted books actually got published. I kept at it, and have had 2, 2-book contracts with Midnight Ink, and I also make my living as a freelancer.
The freelance writing life has convinced me that it can be hard to direct your writing career, but if you stay open-minded you can end up in some interesting and lucrative places.