Every time I publish a blog post that doesn’t do well, I give myself 60 seconds to grieve. And then I move on.
If I dwell on the low numbers any longer than that, I start spiraling. And that’s not good for my productivity. Or my sanity.
The truth is this: I do not like to fail. I don’t like how it feels. I don’t like how I perceive myself to look when I fail. I don’t like admitting it yet I don’t like keeping it to myself, either.
As a recovering perfectionist, I still struggle to deal with the negative emotions so often associated with what I prefer to call “missing the mark.”
When we don’t stick the landing or nail the move, when we hit the wrong note, when we end up facefirst on the ground, we don’t just feel embarrassed. We feel frustrated and sad. We think, “I could have done better.” We think, “Why didn’t I do better?”
We wonder: “Should I even bother trying again?”
It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post or a competition or a math test. Failure hurts. And sometimes the pain and discomfort linger for much longer than we would like them to.
I don’t know you personally. I don’t know your specific circumstances or how failure affects you at an individual level. And I’m certainly no expert when it comes to all things related to self-improvement.
But I do know a thing or two about words. My hope is that some of the ones I share below will help you to deal with your failure in the best way possible. Because the reality is, every writer fails. It’s just what we do.
I’ll never forget the first time something I had written was openly torn apart directly in front of me.
I was working as the sole content writer for a brand whose name I will not mention. I was a freelancer, meaning this was my client and they were simply asking me to write articles and publish them without much vetting. They trusted me to know what I was doing — which I did. Or so I thought.
To make a long story short (because honestly, I would rather not relive this entire experience another time even inside my own head, thanks), an entire meeting was scheduled and executed for the sole purpose of telling me that the introductions I was writing for my articles were “not good.”
There were comments about my poor grammar (which I quietly disagreed with) as well as my inability to connect with the audience (which wasn’t as much of a reach).
What it came down to was something along the lines of: “Your content isn’t doing well and you need to do better.”
Imagine what it feels like to be a writer and have two people telling you to your face that you’re doing a bad job, whether you actually are or not.
That was not fun. Actually, it was pretty terrible.
Granted, these were two men who just in general thought they knew everything better than me for no reason other than the fact that I’m a woman (I no longer work with this client because they “could no longer afford to pay me” which could translate to “we don’t think you’re worth it” but I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt).
But still. Having my failure pointed out to me made my stomach hurt. It did not feel good. And for a long time after that, it made me more self-conscious and hesitant to do what I needed to do in order to reach my full potential as a writer in that space.
And this is just one example. At the beginning of this year at my full-time job I switched roles because my articles weren’t performing well and that was, um, a problem. I’m still dealing with the hit that took to my confidence, and it’s October. I’ll talk more about that another time.
The point is, I’ve dealt with so much failure as a writer at this point that it almost would have been completely justifiable for me to quit. Almost.
Why haven’t I?
Because failure means you are trying, and trying means you are growing. The only way to truly fail, in the darkest sense of the word, is to stop trying for no reason other than you haven’t succeeded yet. When you fail, it means you went out there and attempted to make something good happen. That should make you feel proud of yourself, not sad.
Because succeeding on the first try doesn’t teach you anything. If you wrote a novel and sent it to one agent who sent it to one publisher who agreed to buy and distribute it and it became an instant best-seller and you won a Novel Prize — all on your first attempt — you would have learned absolutely nothing about how to write a good book. That’s an outrageous example. Don’t worry, it doesn’t usually happen.
Because your desire to succeed can increase each time you don’t. It depends on your personality and your true ambitions, of course. But typically, the more you don’t get the result you want — this is meant to be implied to a very specific context — the more you will want that thing. The more job rejections you get, the more you will want a job offer, and therefore, the harder you will work to increase your chances of getting one. The more rejections you get from literary agents, the more you will want one of them to consider your manuscript, and ideally, the harder you will work to make that happen.
Because writers who fail are accomplishing more than those who aren’t writing. If you are so afraid of failing that you end up not writing anything at all, you are so much worse off than a writer who seems to “fail” constantly. The truth is, this business is so full of opportunities that failure is inevitable. The only way to learn how to write better is to write terribly. The only way to know you aren’t doing the proper kind of writing for a publication is having someone from that publication tell you so, likely to your face. Failure is, in its own strange way, it’s own kind of accomplishment. You’re making progress. It’s just really hard to see it.
I don’t ever want to see a writer close their laptop and swear off writing for good because they haven’t found success yet.
Success is something you earn.
In order to succeed, you must fail. Not once, not twice, but dozens of times.
Plenty of people are going to tell you to your face that you’re not doing a good job.
They’re going to tell you that you need to do better but not specify how.
They’re going to say things that would make even the strongest, confident writers consider quitting.
Giving up is always an option. But it’s not one you should run to the second something doesn’t go your way.
Every failure means you’re one step closer to working yourself into success. I know that sounds all warm and sparkly and like it could go on a mug or whatever but I’m serious. Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of. You are allowed to feel embarrassed, you’re allowed to give yourself 60 seconds to feel mad.
But then get up, put those bad feelings behind you, and create something better.
Only you have the power to take a failure and use it to fuel something that might lead to success.
You can do this.
If I can do it, you can, too.
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.