When you are a writer (or other creative person), your job is to
1—Do things that no one else has done before.
2—Mesh things in a way no one else has done before.
3—Say things that other people don’t dare say.
4—Make art out of things that other people don’t consider art and may never consider art.
5—Tell about the lives of people others consider unattractive or unartistic.
6—Subvert expectations at every turn.
7—Offer a different kind of pleasure.
8—Do things in a way that looks messy, sloppy, or accidental.
9—Refuse to follow the rules that everyone else considers impossible to live without.
10—Argue and make a stink and tell people they’re wrong.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that it feels like you are failing. Being truly innovative isn’t going to work a lot of the time. You may be close some of the time. You may be way off some of the time. Or you may simply be different in a way that no one appreciates but you.
But if you spend all of your time wondering if what you’re doing is “right” or if other people will like it, or comparing it to people in the past who have been innovative or people who are deemed “successful” right now, you are going to fail all the time instead of most of the time. Looking back or at those who are already successful is exactly the wrong way to be innovative.
And good art is always innovative in one way or another. Even pulpy, trashy art that professors in colleges refuse to study (right now, anyway) is innovative in some truly important way. Sure, art can also do some things that are expected. It can be less than subversive. But most of the time, if you see something artistic hundreds of years later and people call it “classic,” they’ve just forgotten how subversive it was at the time because that artist was so successful that his way has become the norm.
If you think Van Gogh or Picasso are classic, you forget how hated they were in their own day. Every great artist had and has and will have those who hate their work. The more hatred you get, it’s possible that the better your work is.
So, fail. Fail spectacularly. Fail where everyone can see you. Fail and fail and fail. Because that is the only way you will ever succeed.