Ask any writer what they are most afraid of, and every single one will answer with some variant of several very similar truths.
Some will say they’re afraid everyone who has ever told them they’re good at storytelling has been lying to their face their whole lives.
Others will admit they’re scared of never having what it takes to “make it.”
And still, others will tell you what scares them most is never going after what they really want. Spending their whole lives playing it too safe, never taking the risk, always wondering what might have happened if they’d just gone for it.
What’s the one thing all these worries have in common?
Every single one involves failure. The fear of never being good enough. The reality that you might work your whole life trying to achieve something and never actually do it.
Growing up, most of us were conditioned to believe failure was the worst thing that could ever happen to us.
We were taught to fear it when we should have been told to run toward it with all our strength.
We’re discouraged from addressing our failures unless it’s in the context of success. No one wants to hear how many times you tried and failed to get your book published until it’s already a bestseller. No one cares that you almost failed sophomore English class until after you’re an award-winning journalist. Almost gave up blogging because you had no motivation to keep going? You’d better have a full-time gig as a blogger if you’re going to tell people how hard things used to be.
It shouldn’t be like this. It makes sense why things are the way they are — humans like stories, especially the ones that end with the unlikely hero rising above her enemies and single-handedly saving the world.
But why do we have to wait to talk about our shortcomings until after we’ve overcome them? How are we supposed to process the negative emotions that come along with failure while it’s actively happening if we’re not allowed to talk about them as if they matter — because they do, even if we’re somehow convinced otherwise?
What many creators don’t realize is that talking about your failures and the things you’re struggling with — even when you haven’t succeeded yet — can get you through your darkest days, closer to that success you crave so much than you’ve ever been before.
There’s something to learn in every wrong move and mistake. Some people really don’t like the fact that I immediately look for the smallest source of light in every dark room, but I’ve long since stopped trying to cater to others’ need to force their negativity in my direction. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, and though I haven’t quite found the silver lining in every one, there are a few that have become clearer. And they’ve made all the difference in my progression toward Doing Better (Mostly).
We can’t learn only through positive reinforcement and the good things that happen to us. This is precisely why bad things happen — and why we have to learn to deal with them, to move past them, to take what we learn from them and use those lessons to propel ourselves forward.
You don’t have to immediately “find the positive” when you’re in the midst of trying to navigate your way out of a situation in which you’ve failed. No one is asking you to do that. But you have to keep an open mind. You have to believe, to the best of your ability, that at some point all this is going to make sense. You’re not going to regret how hard you worked. This failure is going to shape you into the writer you have always wanted to be.
You will fail in a thousand different ways a dozen times or more. But that’s a sign you’re trying. It’s a sign you’re willing to risk everything, to do what must be done, to face the possibility of falling short head-on and scream “you don’t own me” as many times as it takes until success becomes your reality, and failure becomes the part of your journey you can leave in the past.
Failure isn’t the end of your road, it isn’t a sign you’re destined for meaninglessness or misery. Failure is simply part of the equation. It’s no one’s favorite part. No one particularly looks forward to having to accept they missed the mark. But the thing is, somehow, we always find a way to move past it. We stop blaming and hating ourselves, we stop wondering what might have happened if we’d done something differently … and we just start doing things differently, knowing it might work this time or the next.
Failure comes in many forms. You might do things wrong, you won’t follow the instructions word for word, you’ll hurt someone’s feelings, you’ll try to go your own way instead of doing what someone who knows better suggested you should do instead. You’ll somehow manage to invent “new” ways to fail. You’ll hit bottom. You’ll wonder if getting up again is even worth it.
But all that gives you somewhere to go. Room to grow.
Don’t fear failure. Welcome it. Try things know you might not get it right the first dozen times. Be brave. Write things that scare you. Do the impossible.
Fail. Learn. Try again. Success is never guaranteed, but the more times you fail, the more likely you are to win at least once. Once, for many, is more than enough.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.