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I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately. Probably because I’ve really been pushing myself as a creator lately, “putting myself out there” in ways I haven’t in a while. It’s been fun and refreshing, but it’s also meant I’ve come face to face with a lot more rejection than I’ve subjected myself to in years past.
The more you try, the more you’re going to fail. That’s just basic probability.
But that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
Unfortunately, it’s this very thing that stands in front of most aspiring writers’ paths and blocks their way.
They don’t want to fail. They don’t want to try something only to be told they can’t do it. And they definitely don’t want to spend copious amounts of time on something only to watch it crash and burn.
More than anything else, what most of us want as creators is to be able to start working on something knowing there is a guarantee we will succeed at it no matter what. But as you can probably guess, this is nothing more than a fantasy. In life — ESPECIALLY in creativity — you don’t get to know the outcomes of all the things you take a chance on. You either have to risk failing or avoid trying at all.
That truth is unsettling for a lot of people. They don’t want to risk failing because they don’t want to face the potential consequences of that failure. Because failing could mean losing money. Dampening your reputation. Disappointing someone. Feeling bad about yourself. I could go on.
Trying is, of course, a choice. Whether you succeed or fail isn’t technically up to you, since even people who do everything “right” the first time don’t always succeed and that’s just the way life works. But you also have the power to choose how you react to failure, and there are a lot of people who don’t take advantage of that.
“If I don’t write this book, I’ll be miserable.” Will you?
“If I don’t get this writing gig, it means I’m just not good enough.” Are you sure?
“If my manuscript gets rejected, it’s a sign I shouldn’t be a writer.” Really?
Attitude is everything. It’s the reason behind many ultimate failures. It’s not that you have to be obnoxiously optimistic about everything all the time. But when you trip and fall, you generally have several options: Stay on the ground, think about how you got here, and wallow in your sorrow, or stand up, acknowledge you were just on the ground feeling a little sad, and continue moving forward anyway, all the while thinking of ways you can prevent falling again at least in the exact way you did before.
Creating is a series of trials and test runs, experiments and hopeful thinking.
You might fail so hard you want to lock the experience inside a box, lock up the box, and never mention it again. But do you know what the alternative is?
You might actually succeed.
You’re so afraid of the possibility of failure that you haven’t even stopped to consider you have just as much of a chance at accomplishing the thing you’re setting out to do.
And branching off of that possibility, it’s also possible that you could technically fail at your original objective but still succeed in the mission as a whole. There are many different ways to get to a finish line, and just because you planned to go one very specific route doesn’t mean going along a different one can’t land you in the exact same finishing spot.
You’ll never figure out any of this if you don’t allow yourself the chance to try. Trying isn’t nearly as scary as it seems, though. Because even if you do end up failing, is that really going to be the end of your world? Is not succeeding really the worst possible outcome you can imagine for yourself?
You’ll regret not taking chances much more than you’ll regret not succeeding. At the very least, a lack of success should be the spark of motivation you need to try again, and again, and again until you figure out what succeeding means to you and what it’s going to take to make success happen in your life.
Don’t spend a year, two, 20, 50, wondering what would happen if you didn’t make it. You want to instead spend your time thinking of what you’re going to do better than you already have, instead of wondering about the outcome of something you haven’t even done yet.
Write the things. No matter what might happen after that.
Just write them. You’ll be glad you did.
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.