Is It Possible for a Writer to Fail?

Maybe it’s time to look at failure a different way.

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One of a writer’s greatest fears is failure, in one or multiple of its many forms.

We’re afraid of being told no. We’re afraid that we’ll put a ton of work into something and nothing will ever come of it. We’re afraid that we’re not good enough, that people who say we have it in us are lying to our faces.

We’re afraid that writing won’t “happen” for us the way we’ve always dreamed it will.

We’re especially afraid of that. Because we don’t want to have to turn to someone else — or even look at ourselves in the mirror — and say we didn’t follow through on a promise or we reached but not quite high enough.

Because failure is this thing that always looms just close enough for us to remember it’s there.

That it’s possible.

But I don’t think we need to fear failure as much as we do.

I think the only way to truly fail is to stop trying, or to never try at all.

You could finish writing a dozen drafts of a novel that never gets published and still have accomplished more than most people who dream of publishing a book someday.

You could work for months — YEARS — on a blog that never ends up making any money and still have found more success than most people who dream of making money as a blogger.

You could write every day and never publish a single word of it and still call yourself a writer, while many aspiring wordsmiths may never even get that far.

We spend so much time measuring success based on dollars earned and followers gained and units sold that we forget success in writing can mean anything you want it to mean. Even if you never make a single dollar or find a follower or sell anything at all.

So then what does it mean to fail? I suppose that’s up to you, too. But I want to discourage you from thinking that not meeting your goals and failing are the same thing. In fact, these are two very different things, and one is actually extremely difficult to achie

Failure means you did not put forth all the effort and energy necessary to make achievement possible.

If falling short is not your fault — someone else said no, we won’t publish your book — that’s not failing. You did everything in your power to achieve your goal. It was passed into someone else’s hands and they decided its fate, not you. You did nothing wrong.

If you try something and it doesn’t work out, you tried. You tried. You did what so many people will never do. Be proud of that. You did good. You’re not done yet. Keep going. Keep trying. You can do it. Maybe not the way you thought, but just because one way didn’t work doesn’t mean another can’t. Right?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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2 thoughts on “Is It Possible for a Writer to Fail?

  1. Wonderful morale booster. My manuscript has been rejected a zillion times with few constructive comments from agents, has had no bites during any #PitMad or other pitch event, and has left me wondering what the heck I think I’m doing. I can write, so I need to keep plugging away. Back to the writing board :-)

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