Writers who are new to the craft don’t understand that failure leads to success. The fact is that no writer gets it right the first time out of the gate, but for some reason the fear of failure compels beginning writers to give up. Many actually give up before they can actually fail.
Let’s read that again: they give up before they can actually fail.
Consequently, this means they can’t succeed.
What they’re totally skipping right over is the process. Unless you’re a child progeny, like if JK Rowling and George RR Martin ever decided to have a kid, I could see that child being born with a pen in hand. Beyond that? Everyone has to go through the ritual of process, failure, process, failure, process, small win, process, bigger win, process, failure … you catch my drift.
Why Failure is Important
Imagine the fear, disappointment, frustration, and discouragement as an enormous, thick, noxious cloud of smoke that is hovering in your way, smack-dab in the middle of your writing journey. You have two options: push your way through or give up.
If you give up, that is the end of your writing journey. You stopped when things got too hard.
If you push through, and deal with fear, disappointment, frustration, and discouragement, you will come out to the other side. A little knee-skinned maybe, but you’ll emerge into a new world where the air is clearer, friendlier, and smells a lot better.
Pushing through, facing and dealing with the crappy stuff, may not earn you the big win or the success you dreamed about. But it does give you something you need.
Why Failure is a Good Thing
Failure will prepare you for the next big obstacle. The worst mistake any writer can make is to think this gig will be easy or that their version of success is the only way to be successful. Thoughts like I should have been done by now. Why am I still having trouble with structure? will lead you down a dangerous landslide of limiting beliefs.
Writers who tumble down this slope are usually those who started this journey because they’d been inspired by a great book that they’ve read, or by a beloved author. Nothing wrong with being inspired by success, except for this one small glitch: They’re basing their desire on a finished, polished product. They don’t see the years and years of hard work and previous failures that led to that success. Years of dedication to learning the craft of writing.
Unless you have studied writing or been trained/educated as a writer, and you understand how the industry works, and you’re highly self-disciplined, then it is next to impossible to pump out a great book in a few months that will end up on the bestseller’s lists. An accomplishment like that takes years of experience and practice. And a little magic called belief.
Why Failure Leads You to Success
Even if you hit a win on your first try, and you’re not rare & gifted, what do you think is going to happen on your next try? You will stumble (because you’re not rare and gifted, remember, so it’s time for you to pay your dues).
That stumble is going to feel like the world is crashing in on you all because you never experienced failure (see point above). You see? Now you’re hanging with all the other average, ordinary writers who are still navigating that slope, searching for success.
Writers ought to stop being fearful of or intimidated by #FAIL. Failure helps you to grow and improve, which as long as you keep trying (see point above), will lead you to success.
The grueling process makes you a skilled writer. You are building your talent, just by writing every day, by working on that one story or five stories, or learning the craft through structure or character development. All of that helps you toward your vision of success.
Instead of looking at failure as an obstacle, treat it as a tool you can use to help you hone your writing process. Once you add failure to your toolkit, you will welcome the things you’re learning, the fact you’re growing. You won’t be taken down quite so easily by discouragement.
That’s because you’ll be confident enough to tell yourself this is what is supposed to happen:
- I’m becoming a more skilled writer.
- I’m learning how to put a story together.
- This is what I need to do before I can even think about completing the book and publishing.
- I have to learn how to write it first.
- My failures are leading me to my successes.
The best way to learn writing is to practice writing. Look at failure as a chance to practice writing. Look at failure as an opportunity—tell yourself, Okay that didn’t work, what is my next choice?
How failure can make you stronger
Failure is like a multi-vitamin for the muse. You need to allow yourself the room to explore the realm of writing. It is vast, endless, riveting, and filled with the unknown. The unexpected. This is what you need to be a writer. You need the questions and the mysteries and the untolds. These are the reasons why we write.
If we were to get the writing down properly the first time and find success within first moments of emergence into the world, then that is your liftoff point. Instead of starting at ground zero, you’re starting among the stars.
Do you think it will be easier to keep soaring through the universe with your next project or to tumble down back to earth?
Failure gives us choices. We can rethink our path when things don’t go our way. We can find better books to read, adjust our schedules, build new systems and practices. Failure teaches us more about ourselves and our purposes.
Along Comes Inner Critic
Inevitably, Inner Critic-itis will flare. I think this is a common ailment among creatives in general. You’re working on art from your soul. Doesn’t even matter if you’re not putting out that soul-art in public. The very fact you’re cultivating it will spark sensitivity. You’ve exposed a nerve, Writer.
We don’t need the help from our inner critic to remind us how vulnerable we are, right? I mean it’s like an I told you so from an overbearing family member or Gloomy Gabs. Who needs that?!
Not us. Not writers who are committed to the craft.
First, make sure that you’ve given yourself permission to write and identified yourself as a writer.
Tell your inner critic to hush up while you write, but that you will appreciate the advice during revision. Writing a letter to your inner critic explaining the difference would help.
Remind your inner critic that failure is expected, even embraced, because of what it will teach you. It is okay to make mistakes, take missteps, turn the wrong corners. That in doing so you are becoming a better writer.
Consider the possibility that your inner critic is protecting you, which I personally believe is part of your natural writing forces, and something every writer must uncover for themselves.
Hal and Sidra Stone, authors of Embracing Your Inner Critic, write, “To go beneath the criticisms of the Inner Critic and convert your distress to understanding, you must always remember how and why the Critic was born. You must remember the important role it has had to play in protecting that very young, vulnerable, unprotected, and sensitive child that you used to be.”
Writing every day is the most effective weapon against your inner critic. Think about it: If you’re focusing on your creative voice, allowing your creative thoughts to fill your mind, then there isn’t a lot of space for your inner critic to roam.
Finding the wins among the failures
Failure is going to come in all shapes and sizes. It will strike half a dozen times, four hundred times, or skeighty-eight thousand times. Somewhere in there, though, you’ll have wins.
Just like failure can be an expected part of your journey, wins are too, but they tend to be much more subtle and fleeting. They don’t exactly heckle us from the crowd, you know?
This is because we often have a different vision or expectation of what a win looks like, so we completely miss the smaller-but-terribly-necessary wins that are actually keeping us on track.
Most important here is that knowing what a daily win looks like will strengthen your acceptance of failure, which in turn, increases your growth as a writer.
Wins look different for every writer, so it’s important to know what kinds of wins will be your personal stepping stones.
- writing every day
- finding a new story idea
- successful research
- inspiring another writer with your words
- falling in love with an amazing book
- saving enough money to go to a writers’ conference
- finishing a chapter
- feeling fulfilled while writing
All of these and more count as wins that are hearty enough to keep a writer motivated and dedicated. Don’t take these lightly. Celebrate them every time they show up and grace your life. The more you honor these wins, the more they’ll occur, and soon they’ll outshine and outweigh any failures you’re experiencing.
Sure, failures will still happen because that’s how the world goes ‘round. But the difference is they will present themselves as challenges, setbacks, once you accept them. Harder and harder it will be for them to take you down.
‘Cause we ain’t got time for wrestling with failure. We got books to write!
How do you handle failure? Do you stumble over it or embrace it?