Challenge,  Misc

Looking Back…

Doing a Lot of That This Year…

Because of the fact that I sold my first two short stories 50 years ago and 40 years ago I was the first to walk across the Writers of the Future stage. Those kind of “zero” year dates will make anyone look around.

And, of course, looking back over time can get you that wonderful 20/20 hindsight of seeing mistakes. I got two really good examples of that at the moment. The first one is looking back 50 years at the largest mistake I made in my writing and publishing career.

The one mistake of instead of continuing to do what I had been doing to sell the first two short stories, I started listening to the writing myths and English teachers about how I needed to rewrite and polish and outline and all that crap. And thus for eight years I wrote very little and got nothing but form rejections.

Eight years.

If I had stayed the course I started on, in those eight years I would have been selling a lot more fiction and maybe even novels.

BUT… With those same 20/20 hindsight goggles now available to me from my future standing, I can see clearly that if I hadn’t gotten off track for those eight years, once I got back on track I sold to Writers of the Future (a story written quickly on a typewriter, one draft like my first two sold stories) and thus I met Kris.

So this looking back at the huge mistakes in my writing life and what I learned from them can also bring clearness about the road I did end up walking. Always keep that in mind.

Second example: In late October last fall, one beautiful Sunday morning, I made the decision that instead of jogging and walking a 5K fun run, I would run for a ways with the leaders. And I did until suddenly I didn’t. Concrete is very, very hard. Smashed up my shoulder and went into surgery a few days later, and I spent a month in a brace and another two months learning how to type again.

I do regret that mistake and the pain, oh yes. The decision to run instead of jog was pretty damn stupid, but now six months later, it is fascinating how that accident has helped us. Because of my fall and recovery, Kris and I discovered that WMG was a mess beyond words. I am not going to go into the mess that was uncovered by my fall, but think of it like turning over a rock and finding all kinds of icky stuff crawling under it. My fall and recovery period kicked over that rock, as things like that tend to do.

But now we are headed in a wonderful new direction, shifting WMG from a traditional publishing structure to an indie publishing structure.  (Yes, going forward I will talk about the differences and the new corporation we will be firing up shortly to help out in other ways.)

I am back writing, enjoying teaching again, and I had a blast at the Writers of the Future big event. And I even had fun giving a speech, something not like me at all. (grin) (About minute 50 in the ceremony if you want to watch it on

So I regret 50 years ago listening to the myths and turning toward rewriting and polishing for eight long years in the form rejection wilderness. But yet that mistake allowed me to meet Kris at the exact right time and spend the last 38 wonderful years together.

And I regret running and smashing up my shoulder, but again the path we are now on with WMG is so much better and the future is so much more fun.

So when looking back, thinking you made a mistake, regretting the time wasted, step out of your own timeline and take a look at where you are now because of that mistake. As I have been, you might be surprised.


  • T Thorn Coyle

    Interesting, Dean. Mistakes, roads not taken, and simple bad times can change our trajectory for good or ill, depending on what we make of them.

    My brain injury a few years back was the most harrowing time of my adult life. It also meant I ended up writing my most popular series–the Seashell Cove Paranormal Cozy Mysteries–which I might never have done if the brain issues hadn’t also killed my critical voice.

    I sometimes regret not giving fiction more of a second chance back when I took a short story class from you and Kris 20 years ago, but for some reason I still wasn’t ready yet, and had just sold my first nonfiction book to NY. I kept building that other career instead. But when fiction came roaring back ten years ago, I knew just where to turn, and how. What I learned in the prior years helped me build this new career far more quickly than I would have otherwise. I walked away from fiction twice. Third time has proved to be a charm.

    It all works out, if we let it.

    I’m looking forward to more of the 50 Year of Mistakes class. Huh. Miss-Takes.

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