This post is going to go into very real, very raw territory. But that is something that is needed when establishing community, and I think it’s something every writer faces: the idea of failure.
I’m going to be completely honest: as a writer, I’ve failed A LOT. Even in the past six months, I entered two novella competitions and not only did not place, I didn’t even come close. Does it bother me? Of course—it would bother any writer. But those failures are merely added to a very long, long list of rejections for short stories. Many of the world’s most successful authors “failed” MULTIPLE TIMES before finally getting published.
But that doesn’t really ease the ache, or the question: will it ever happen to me? Will I ever reach the pinnacle, sign that contract, hold my book in my hands?
The brutal answer: we don’t know.
The comforting answer: as the end of Star Wars: Rogue One, taught us, there’s always something to work towards. For them, it was “hope.” For us, it’s the same, though obviously far different circumstances!
Anyways, moving on. Failure is an everyday part of life. I’ve failed already at Write 100. I failed to get published in those competitions, etc., etc., etc. It’s when we never expect ourselves to fail, or ALWAYS expect ourselves to fail, that life—and writing—gets tricky.
So what are some ways where we can reduce that unneeded pressure on ourselves? Laura wrote an article recently that addressed this topic as well, so hopefully I can add a bit to her wisdom.
I said in my last article, but will stress until I’m a grumpy old lady with a house full of cats, FIND WRITING BUDDIES. Find people who will squeal over scenes, rage or ramble about your characters, with and beside you, and whose characters and story you can rage and ramble over as well. Having friends to encourage and strengthen you, bolster your confidence, is so necessary. There’s a reason why certain authors dedicate their stories to their friends—because without those friends, the story might never have come to completion.
Secondly, DON’T WALLOW. I’m terrible at this. I latch onto negativity sometimes (usually the stupid things I’VE done) and agonize over it for days, long after most people would have forgotten about it. I’ll think people hate me or are ignoring me because of something I said, when really they’re just too busy living their lives while I’m too busy thinking. It’s the same with writing—and this is easier said than done—but if you read something negative about your work, go and read something positive right after. Or call a friend. Do anything you can to keep from allowing the negativity to fester. I understand this isn’t going to work for everyone, and it’s not meant for everyone. There are others like myself who suffer from mental illness where additional steps are required. That’s OKAY. But if you need someone to listen to you, find that someone (I’m terrible for this). If you need that medication, TAKE IT. Because mental illness does take a creative toll, and the last thing we need as writers is to increase our burdens unnecessarily.
(Please also mind: This isn’t a doctor’s note. These are simply general suggestions for writers.)
Third and lastly, muddle about with smaller projects that take the burden and stress off of you, something that can be completed in less time and offers you a fun, relaxing way to enjoy what you love. For me, I entered a different fairy tale retelling competition online, where I got to put my entry beside two very talented, lovely writer friends of mine. Did I win? Nope, not even close. But it was fun, and the story garnered some kind, encouraging feedback from people who read it that really helped boost my writing morale. Now I can go back to that larger project in the works with more confidence and less feeling of “failure.”
I was watching a cooking competition show recently and one of the first contestants to get booted off shared a Chinese proverb that really struck me: “Failure is the mother of success.” He was certain that, despite not achieving the outcome he wanted, he would get to a place where he could be content eventually.
It’s okay to not be happy with your writing. It’s okay to be uncertain. But we have to all write through those uncertainties, write despite the unhappiness, or else we won’t get anything done. It’s OKAY to feel like a failure. You’re not by yourself in these feelings. It’s OKAY to be sad, disappointed, etc. We shouldn’t diminish our feelings, but we also need to remember (as I’ve written to other writing friends before) that WE WILL FIND OUR AUDIENCE. Perhaps not as fast as we’d like, or as many as we’d want, but just as success is what you make it, so is failure. If you want to feel like a failure, you will find reasons to call yourself that. But if you want to feel like you’ve succeeded, point out all the little ways you have done so throughout the day/writing life: the great brainstorm session you had, the character you’ve fallen in love with, the new writing friend you’ve made.
Don’t let failure and its whispers have the last word.
Show it that you have better plans.