Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1 Fail Big by Shaun David Hutchinson

Today we're welcoming Shaun David Hutchinson, author of the newly released WE ARE THE ANTS, to talk about ideas of failure, success, and what it all really means. 

Fail Big by Shaun David Hutchinson

I'm probably not qualified to give you advice. My first book, The Deathday Letter, was, by pretty much every account, a failure. My second book, fml, though it sold better, took three years to make it to shelves, and there's still a lot about it I wish I could change. My third, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, almost ended up in a trunk. I can't take credit for my fourth book, the anthology Violent Ends, because everything that's great about it is due to the amazing work of the authors who agreed to write stories for me. And my fifth book, We Are the Ants, isn't out yet, and though it's getting some of buzz, I worry it's a fluke.

I'm probably not qualified to give you advice. I'm just making it up as I go along. Hell, I'm not even making it up as I go, I'm just going and making it up after the fact so that hopefully no one realizes I have no freaking clue what I'm doing.

It's true. I don't know what I'm doing. Every time I sit down in front of my computer to start a new book, I feel like my fingers are made of sausages and that every word I write is scraped from the underside of a sewer grate. I don't have a plan, I don't have a clue. I can't even buy a vowel. For me, writing each book is like paddling against the current in a leaky canoe on the edge of Niagara Falls. Paddle, paddle, paddle. Bail some water. Paddle some more. Pray I finish the draft before my canoe sinks or I go tumbling over the edge of the waterfall.

I'm definitely not qualified to give you advice. No one should listen to anything I have to say about writing. Because I'm making it all up.

I spend countless hours between the time I sign a book contract and the time it finally hits shelves wondering when my publisher is going to phone me and tell me they've made a horrible mistake and they hadn't actually intended to publish my book. Each book release for me is filled with relief. Whew! I've snuck another one past my publisher. But I figure they'll probably realize their error with the next one, and the countdown of terror begins anew.

But being a hack, being a's kind of freeing. Sounds counterintuitive, but it's true. For me, anyway. See, the thing about making it all up and about being a fraud is that I assume every book I write is going to be my last. When I start a new manuscript, I say to myself, Okay, kid...(and, yes, I still oddly see myself as a I never grew up but only got strangely older and rounder and achier)...this is probably going to be the last book you write before they figure out you have no idea what you're doing. Fail big.

Fail big.

If my publishers and readers are going to figure out I'm a fraud and if I'm never going to sell another book, then there's no point holding back. There's no point trying to write what I think people want to read. There's no point trying to gauge the market or chase the trends or even to try to please the people—and by "people," I mean my mom—who've read my previous books. If this book is going to be my last, then I'm going to write the weirdest, most honest book I can write. I'm going to fail big.

When people read the last thing I write, I don't want them to say "Not bad" or "Meh" or "I've read worse." I want them to shake their heads and say, "What in the name of all that is holy was he thinking?" I want people to hold rallies in town squares and build bonfires from the unsold copies of my books. I want to fail so hard puppies cry.

I don't want to go out with a whimper. I want to go out with a bang that kickstarts a universe.

I'm not sure there's a point to writing otherwise.

I don't really like reality television, but I do watch Top Chef and Project Runway. I can't cook or sew, and watching the contestants do things in an hour that I couldn't do in a lifetime seems like magic to me. But the one thing that bothers me about both of those shows is that often when a contestant is eliminated they'll say something in their exit interview along the lines of, "I'm just sad I never got to show the judges who I really am as a designer (or chef)." No. "Bother" isn't the right word. It doesn't bother me; it pisses me off. I inevitably yell at the television (because, yes, I frequently yell at my TV), "Then what the heck have you been doing for the last six weeks? Why have you wasted my time and yours?"

Don't settle for the middle of the pack. Don't try for "good enough." Show people who you really are. Write every book like you could be eliminated. That way, if it does turn out to be your last, during your exit interview you can say, "Well, at least I went out on a book I believe in."

Fail big. Write like it's the last book you'll ever write. When you sit down in front of your computer or notepad, don't write the story that makes you think, "This is nice. I bet my grandma would like it." Write the story that you know will make your tenth-grade English teacher weep into his bourbon-laced coffee. Write the story that will make the Pope excommunicate you and book reviewers everywhere throw up their hands and say, "I could've been eating waffles instead of reading whatever mind-boggling mess this is." Write the story that makes you want to throw up from fear to tell. Crack open your chest, scrape out your insides, and smear them on the pages.

Fail big. Fail huge. Because, you never might just actually succeed. And if you don't, at least you won't go out on a book reviewers might call, "tenaciously mediocre."

But you probably shouldn't listen to me. I'm a failure, a fraud. I have no idea what I'm doing. My next book is probably going to be my last before my publisher realizes they've made a horrible mistake. And I'm absolutely, positively not qualified to give you advice.


Henry Denton doesn’t know why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

Since the suicide of his boyfriend, Jesse, Henry has been adrift. He’s become estranged from his best friend, started hooking up with his sworn enemy, and his family is oblivious to everything that’s going on around them. As far as Henry is concerned, a world without Jesse is a world he isn’t sure is worth saving. Until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

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Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of The Deathday Letter, fml, and the forthcoming The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. He can be reached at He currently lives in South Florida with his partner and dog and watches way too much Doctor Who.

1 comment:

  1. I love this so much! The most inspirational article I've seen!


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