If At First You Don’t Succeed

Jane Friedman is a publishing industry pundit who actually deserves the title. She’s been an editor, manager, author, educator, and more, in both traditional and independent publishing contexts, dealing with both fiction and non-fiction. In this week’s newsletter, Jane mentioned the concept of a “bias for survival.”

She borrowed the phrase from a tweet by Ben Orenstein who was cautioning new and aspiring pod-casters to manage to one priority: Make it through the first year. Apparently the overwhelming majority of pod-casters don’t, so his advice was to set up everything with sustainability in mind. Not market share, not monetizing content, not reach, not audience growth. Forget the metrics and spreadsheets, forget the immutable truths and eternal verities. Focus on what you need to do to sustain what you’ve started.

If you can’t stand to deal with Facebook’s ad interface, let it slide. If you have no idea how to use Canva for graphics, don’t drain your battery trying to learn now.

I wish somebody had offered this advice to me as a new author. I was bombarded with admonitions that I HAD to have a website, I HAD to be on social media, I HAD to be on MORE social media, I HAD to give away tens of thousands of free books. I HAD to have critique partners, and I HAD to take every marketing course any young guy who’d written two books had ever put together.

Madness. Fortunately, I was still working the lawyer job full time, and I’d also spent about twenty years single-parenting. At some point, I figured out that what I had to do was write more books. That mattered. The rest might or might not help sell the books, but that ship doesn’t leave port until I load it up with books. And fortunately for me, the writing is the part I enjoy the most, and because I love it, I can keep at it. Lucky me!

I went through the same kind of epiphany when I was working full time and going to law school five nights a week. Half-way through the first semester, I realized that the key to survival–not top grades, not brilliant law review articles, but survival–was getting enough sleep. Before I worried about briefing every case, finding a study group, or reading the whole bibliography, I focused on getting enough sleep.

I lasted the distance, and could support my daughter fairly well as a result, but my critical strategy wasn’t anything I’d found in First Year Law Student Tips and Tricks lists. Those resources tend to be focused on success, but for me, it’s often wiser to focus on sustainability. If this task is important to me, how can I make sure I’m still doing it well and happily a year from now? Five years from now?

Not brilliantly, maybe, but well and happily?

Where have you chosen a bias for survival and sustainability rather than the road to world domination? Is there any advice you wish you had heard earlier in life?Any you’ve heard lately that seems to resonate?

No giveaway this week, but I have put my novella, A Kiss by the Sea, on free download in the web store. This story originally appeared in the Bluestocking Belles anthology, Storm and Shelter, so if you bought that collection, you already have this tale.



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12 comments on “If At First You Don’t Succeed

  1. What you term “Bias for Survival” I interpret as “Good Enough.” Despite what our bosses and society tell us, not everything we do in life actually requires that we give 100% of our effort. To do so would quickly exhaust us, both physically and emotionally. To put it another way, as taught in the movie “City Slickers,” find out what your ONE THING is, and do that to the best of your ability. The rest really only requires a portion of your focus and energy. In my case, my ONE THING is the health and happiness of my family. That is what I devote 100% of my emotional and physical energy to. The rest can hang. Does that mean that if my (grown) kids need help with the grandkids I drop everything else? You bet! If someone I care for is having a medical issue, am I there to help, be it a meal, a ride,or just hand holding? You bet! Does that mean that maybe the other dozen things on my plate get shoved to the back of the line? I think you can guess the answer! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  2. My biggie was discovering perfected writing is not necessary to success. I had significant learning challenges when young. Spelling and grammar challenges persisted until spell check etc. I threw myself into perfect wording and frankly I enjoyed it.

    I finally noticed that I needed to find non existent time. Giving up on perfect writing bought me a lot of time. Nobody noticed but me, I miss it.

  3. I decided long ago that, while being encouraged by everybody to rise to the top because “you’re too smart not to,” I was happy doing enough to be happy (that’s what sustains me so that’s long been my bias). Yes, I had times I didn’t care for but the important thing was being able to go home at a decent hour (I rarely worked overtime) and do what I wanted to do. Once I realized that “getting to the top” required more than 80 hours a week of work (and I didn’t even like doing 40 hours a week), I dialed back and stayed in the middle. Yes, I did simultaneously work full-time, teach college part-time, and go to graduate school part-time for a few years, but that was to satisfy me only, rather than being required to get ahead. I don’t regret my decisions and I still have a bias for sustaining happiness.

  4. Your experiences mirror mine: when I founded my chamber choir, I was told I simply HAD to do certain things. I did and was miserable and so were my singers. I soon decided that I should only do what made sense for me and my choir. I’ve been much happier and my choir, while not quite what I envisioned yet, is getting there.

    But the sleeping thing–I know I need to sleep at least 8 hours every night. In fact, as long as I get my 8, I can do anything. If I don’t, I’m crabby and not on top of things. With me, it’s cumulative too. If it’s a busy week and I get 7 hours or less a night, everything suffers. I can make it up by catching a nap here or there or getting 8 hours a few nights and am back to normal.

    Oh, and I’m not a morning person AT ALL. I will get up if I need to, but listening to news radio for 30 minutes is part of my routine.

    Listening to my body and to my SELF has made all the difference! 🙂

    • I’m with you on the 8 hours of sleep. Knowing that I need that sleep to be productive but also patient and calm with my kids means that I have no problem going to sleep with dishes in the sink or laundry unfolded (or email unanswered etc). Eventually things will get done, and there is very very little I’ll sacrifice sleep for.

  5. This is my journaling work this week- figuring out what I had put on my To DO List that I can trim. What can I subtract from my daily routine? From my short term goals? From my long term goals? I listened to a podcast this past week that talked about how we will never accomplish all the things that we thing that we should, or that we think we would like to. And all its doing is making us stressed. So I’m trying to pare my list, and my expectations. To decrease my stress and increase my life satisfaction. That’s so hard to do given my Puritan WASP upbringing where my worth to my parents and my society was judged on what I accomplished. Societal pressure suck, dude.

  6. Many years ago when I was no longer a wife and our children adults I was at a difficult and frightening time of my life.My life was upside down.The kids had their lives and the ex had his new girlfriend.I felt my roles,duties and all the things that make up being wife,mother were redundant.I suffered low self esteem and confidence.It took me a while but from some where I pulled my socks up ,refused to be a victim and said to myself”I’m not stupid nor weak I’m me and I will prove it”.A few years later I was doing a job I loved which cared for many .I had a team of good people around me.It was not always easy but we made a difference to many.The hardest part to all of this is —–knowing when to slow down or let go.When to say”I’ve proved I can but now it’s time to say goodbye”.My journey has been tough and required stamina at times but I stuck with it and reaped its reward.Fantastic young old sick and elderly humans.All of us helping each other.To survive.

  7. Well, I quit a job to go back to school.
    When I was younger, I wish I had had a better handle on my personality and that I would not enjoy the career I fell into. I coulda used a lot more guidance as a kid even if I may not have listened! ;p

  8. Thank you so much for your “inventory.” I would not have found your writing on social media. I appreciate being able to go out to see if my authors have anything new in the works, but also if they’ve quit writing or passed on, however. And I wait for your blog posts.

    I wish I had internalized the concept of “Just as I am” a lot younger. I’m still working on believing that I am enough, or as my grandmother told my dad, “You’re average. You’ll do.”

  9. I like your advice because it loosens the harness, so to speak. I’ve been thinking recently that hindsight advice is not always valuable. The reason I have hindsight is because I traveled the road and thought about the journey. If one only travels a journey of least resistance and best success provided by another, is it a valuable journey? Would I feel the same about my triumphs? I don’t think so. Therefore, I’ve decided to stop giving my grown kids (25 and 27) advice. Instead, I’m here if they need me.