We all fear failure to some extent. We often secretly believe that when we try something, we should be met with resounding success, comparing our first efforts against those on display, those receiving accolades that inspired us to take up the pursuit in the first place. When we fail, it hurts us, embarrasses us, makes us feel ashamed. Worse than all those feelings, it can make us stop trying and avoid picking up the creative pursuit altogether. If our attitudes are born out of a self-conscious, conditioned response (and numerous studies confirm this to be the case) the good news is that we can alter that conditioning. Today we will spend our time learning to think about failure differently.
Bestselling self-help author Gretchen Rubin says, “I want to see failure as a necessary and acceptable part of a fun, ambitious, creative career. I try to expand my expectations to include failure, as odd as that sounds.” Have you built in some expectations of failure? Have you self-checked that you aren’t absorbing every online myth about publishing? There is a reason why we all hear about the instant bestsellers, the seven-figure auctions, the film deals with star-studded casts: they are rare, unusual, and therefore big news. And it should be noted too that the early victories have their own pressures attached—the paralyzing fear of making a misstep, and the pressure to continue staying a hit.
Failure tests our endurance and our commitment. You may get a literary agent, but they want the whole manuscript reworked before they take it out on submission. Your manuscript may have gone far and wide and no one is interested in publishing it. Maybe you spent weeks crafting a dream agent list but didn’t receive a single request to see more materials. All of these happen. Often. What will you do to make sure you can stand the perceived failure?
Another bestselling self-help author, Brene Brown, says, “The difference between I am a screwup and I screwed up may look small, but in fact it it’s huge. Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough. Failure can become our most powerful path to learning if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.”
Choose courage and turn off the external and internal noise. Put the social media down and immerse yourself in your craft. Only when you have created your best possible work, should you resurface to seek advice, engagement, and collaboration. Whether in the form of books, blogs, podcasts, conferences, or writing groups, look for your community, the people and interactions that will continue to make you a better writer. Remember to take a moment to celebrate the small wins. Finishing a manuscript, finishing a chapter, even meeting a goal like sitting down to all your scheduled writing sessions this month, all deserve their own celebrations.
Creating is one of the hardest tasks we can engage in—pushing against the status quo, avoiding the siren call of the thousand distractions asking you to numb out, turn off, put away until “tomorrow”.
Keep at it. Keep looking for the magic in failures. It is there waiting in the space between.
We are always in your corner! Look to us for workshops to help you expand your community, learn new techniques, and keep the momentum going.