I have a friend who once made it a goal to receive 100 poetry submission rejections in a single year. This method of “motivation” fascinated me. Because in order to receive that many rejections, she had to write and send out MANY submissions. And in the process — she did end up getting 100 rejections — some of her submissions even got accepted.
She faced a lot of failure as a writer that year. But she’s much stronger, and much more motivated to continue pursuing her goals, because of it.
Through her I learned a very important lesson about failure. As writers, we always look at the possibility of “not succeeding” as a bad thing. But maybe things would be a lot different if, instead of treating it as something bad, we found a way to look forward it. Some kind of motivator to run headfirst straight into it.
No one is immune to failure — neither the fear of it nor its consequences. But you can’t let your worries about what’s already happened, or has yet to occur, stop you from moving forward.
I’ve failed more times as a writer than I can count. I’ve gotten things wrong. I’ve misread instructions. I’ve gotten rejected for reasons no one would ever disclose to me. I’ve jumped headfirst into projects and realized they weren’t sustainable. I’ve made promises and haven’t kept them.
Do these things make me a bad writer? A bad person? Of course not. They make me human. We’re so afraid of looking stupid or incompetent and of being judged for doing something wrong. Usually, it’s because someone from our past felt the need to shame us for making a mistake, and we don’t want to endure that kind of pain again.
I make it a point, as an editor, never to shame a writer for doing something poorly or incorrectly. It’s not my job to discourage or drag down someone who is doing the best they know how. I know how it feels to be treated like you’re stupid for not being perfect and I refuse to be responsible for making another writer go through that.
Some say writers are too fragile, that they take things too personally and don’t know how to handle rejection. I won’t say I disagree with this — I just wouldn’t word it quite like that. I believe some writers aren’t trained to handle rejection because they haven’t had enough experience facing that kind of rejection.
It’s not their fault. But it IS up to them to change their circumstances, usually by writing, writing a little more, and even still a little more until rejection and failure become part of the routine instead of something to dread.
To be clear, failure never stops hurting, and you never really stop being afraid of it. But it does get a little easier to move past it the more you expose yourself to it. It’s not a noticeable change. You don’t completely break down after one mistake or shortcoming and just shrug off the next one like it’s no big deal. Adapting to the aftermath of failure is something that takes effort, patience, and time.
Effort. Patience. Time. All valuable things a writer must take into account when they decide to create something, though many quit before they allow themselves the chance to succeed.
We’re so afraid of failing that we give up before success even becomes an option. That’s sad.
Just because you fail today or tomorrow or two months from now does not mean you have less of a chance of succeeding in the future. In reality, the more you fail, the GREATER your chances of succeeding.
Why? Because every failure has something to teach you, as long as you’re willing to learn from your mistakes and shortcomings and improve next time.
Failure should always mean a brighter future for you. The way I see it, if something doesn’t happen — your poem doesn’t get chosen or an agent doesn’t sell your book to a publisher or your blog doesn’t get any traction — it’s simply because it wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t meant to turn out the way you hoped.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. It means it’s time to start building something new — something that could lead to big, amazing things.
Look at failure as something good. Or try to, at least.
Everyone fails. It’s those who keep working hard anyway who eventually succeed.
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.