How to Analyze Your Failures

It does not feel good, to know you have failed.

It does not feel good, to know you have failed.

However, you can feel better by taking an analytical approach to the goals you were not able to achieve. It sounds scary, but it’s not. We spend too much time running as far away from our failures as we can. They have things to teach us. Learn from them, before you walk away.

Look closely at all the things you wanted to do, but did not end up doing, this year. Not to bring yourself down or remind yourself how much of a failure you think you are, but instead to figure out why you didn’t get that thing done. How can you prevent a similar thing from happening again next year?

I’ll use my 2016 reading goal as an example here. I wanted to read 50 books. Currently I have finished reading 25 – and there is zero hope of reading 25 more books in three weeks. So what went wrong? Reading, on average, a book a week for an entire year isn’t THAT hard, is it?

Ask yourself these questions when looking at your unachieved writing, reading or creative goals:

  • Did you set a goal you could actually accomplish?
  • What was your initial reason for setting this goal in the first place?
  • Did you dedicate enough time every day to making that goal happen?
  • Did you set smaller goals to help make your big goal seem more realistic?
  • Did you put off starting? Why?
  • Did things, either in or outside of your control, get in your way?
  • Do you still want to work toward achieving this goal? If yes, how do you plan to do so? If no, what made you lose interest in working toward your goal?

Looking at this list of questions, I can already point to time as a major factor in my “failure.” There were days I barely squeezed in a few pages of reading before moving on to a different activity. A few pages a day, even for a few days in a row, set me far enough behind that I could not catch up.

It’s just a reading goal – it’s not the end of the world. But you may have wanted to do something HUGE this year – write a book or start a blog or submit an article somewhere. So why didn’t you? What stopped you? Most importantly – what are you going to do differently, now, to make sure this goal finally gets accomplished (if you’re still interested)?

This is different than dwelling on your failures. Yes, it is still important to look ahead and not let your past drag you down. But you have to learn from your mistakes, if you do not want to repeat them. It’s not enough to assume ‘not wanting to feel bad about yourself again like you did after this failure’ will be enough to motivate you to do better. No – you need to look closely at what did not work, so you can change your behavior next time.

There are so many great things coming your way – as long as you prepare for them. Action is the only way to accomplish anything, writing-wise or otherwise. Not just as you’re working, but before you even start. Look back – but only to remind yourself that there is a different, hopefully better way to make X happen. Try again. Maybe set the bar a little lower. I’m not going to try aiming for 50 books again in 2017, I don’t think. But that’s OK. Sometimes smaller goals are the best kinds.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Embracing the Part of You that Thinks You Can’t Do This

You actually CAN do it. It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins in less than 36 hours. I am always, ALWAYS excited for November 1 to hit. It’s a time of year people who live to write have a legitimate excuse to do more of it than they have time for – and I love that. We all do.

I’m still excited. But possibly for the first time since I joined the NaNo community in 2008, there’s a little fear and anxiety dimming my anticipation. For the first time, I’m legitimately afraid I won’t be able to make it to 50,000 words this year.

Long story short, I’ve already had to drop multiple writing projects this year because I couldn’t balance everything. What if NaNo becomes just another abandoned commitment?

The logical part of my brain knows I’ll be fine – writing a novel is sort of like doing homework: starting is just a hurdle you stumble over and then things don’t seem quite as bad as you thought they would be. This is a new feeling for me, though – at least in terms of novel writing. This part of me screaming “you cannot do this, do not do this” – I don’t recognize it. Where did it come from … and why won’t it shut up?

I hate to break it to you, but there is no remedy for doubt. It will always be there, if only in the back of your mind, prompting you to wonder if you’re making all the right choices. There are things you can do to quiet it down – writing even if you aren’t confident; trying your hardest; not giving up, even if it means adjusting your own self-expectations – but in many ways, you can, should, also embrace it.

“I can’t write 50,000 words in 30 days this year,” my brain tells me. But actually, I can. I’ve done it before – eight times – and I can do it again. It will be a challenge, and it may not be in my best interest to try, but that does not mean I am incapable of attempting it – or that I shouldn’t at all.

The reason you should embrace doubt is not just to retort with a mental or verbal “Yes, I can” – but also to sit down, make a schedule, write 1,667 words every single day in November and prove your doubt wrong, no matter what it takes. There is no better incentive than proving doubt insignificant. Doubt is doubt. It is a bad feeling that prompts many negative thoughts and behaviors. But in many ways, it’s there to encourage you. It’s taunting you. “Ha, ha. You can’t do it. No way.” You can – and it might take doubt to help you realize the only way to beat it is to do the very thing you have come to believe you cannot do.

I don’t know what your biggest hangup is, as a writer. But what I do know is that you have doubted yourself before – once at least, but likely many more times than that. Your only regret will be that you never tried. Trying and failing – or trying and deciding it’s not going to work, willingly setting it aside – you will learn from and overcome that. Not trying at all – that will destroy you. Even when you doubt, all you have to do is try. And revise. And try again. It sounds impossible … but it isn’t. It’s possible, as long as you’re willing to make an attempt that counts.

I won’t promise that I’ll make it to the finish line this year if there comes a moment I decide it cannot be done. But you can bet I will try, using that fear and doubt and anxiety as fuel to keep going even when it gets hard. Whatever goal you’re working toward in your writing in the weeks to come, I hope you’ll do the same. Try. That is all I ask of you.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving Up on Your Novel

Life throws up roadblocks all the time. We get sick. We get busy. A friend comes into town for an unexpected visit.

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Have you ever just wanted to throw your computer out the window and never look back?

You can’t really just ‘give up’ on something you are writing. Well … you could. But do your good ideas really deserve that? You should really first assess why you are giving up. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to quit for good.

Is there a problem with your story?

Sometimes, stories start off promising and just never quite come together the way we originally hoped they would. Sometimes we’re too far along in a story before we realize we should have done something differently, and fixing it would require a total rewrite. Maybe you had a moment of clarity in the middle of the night and decided you aren’t willing to put in the extra time to make your story publish-worthy.

This does happen, and if it is no longer important to you, you don’t have to force yourself to finish and/or fix what is broken. The fact that you have been able to identify the problems in your story and have an idea of what it would require to fix them still makes it a worthwhile learning experience, even if you never do end up finishing what you started. Learning is part of the writing process.

If your story isn’t the problem, though, maybe there’s something else standing in your way.

Is there something in your life preventing you from finishing what you started?

Life throws up roadblocks all the time. We get sick. We get busy. A friend comes into town for an unexpected visit. We get really skilled at prioritizing – so much so that we get all our important work done without giving our story even an apologetic glance.

If life is happening, and it’s hitting hard, this is one of those cases when ‘giving up’ is completely acceptable. You are allowed to focus on more important things than a novel you’re writing just for fun. However, in this case, ‘giving up’ doesn’t have to be permanent. You can put a project to the side and give yourself some kind of incentive or deadline for picking it back up again at a later time, when you’re more capable of giving your project the attention it deserves.

Is another story luring you away?

New ideas come along when we least expect them to appear. Often that means we get distracted from the current project we keep promising ourselves we are going to finish. Your original story is great. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, and you wouldn’t mind continuing to work on it. Yet … this brand new idea looks so much more appealing than the old one. Is it okay to abandon your old idea for your new one?

Honestly? That’s really up to you. But I support the opinion that, if another idea is the only thing keeping you from finishing something you were working on before, it isn’t worth abandoning your old project for something new. You can start to work on the new one while finishing the old one, or try to work on both at the same time (better than switching from one to the other completely). But if that’s your only reason for wanting to quit … it’s just not a very good one.

Are you just frustrated/bored/discouraged?

Because if that’s the case, giving up is the absolute wrong thing to do. Writers write with their emotions, however, that is not the same thing as letting your feelings prevent you from writing. Everyone will get bored with what they’re writing in the middle of writing it. Everyone will become frustrated and discouraged. It wouldn’t be writing without those experiences mixed in.

You can always take a temporary break from what you are working on (an afternoon, a day, maybe even a few days) to work on something different if you are feeling any of these things. That doesn’t mean you have to, or should, give up completely. Likely, it isn’t your story that’s making you feel this way: it’s you. If you have to take some time away from your project to figure out why you’re feeling these negative emotions toward your writing, it is okay, even a great idea, to do that. Just don’t forget to come back when you are ready.

It is okay to quit. There are plenty of experts out there who will tell you quitting is sometimes a necessity. Just don’t let yourself quit for a completely unjustifiable reason. You have great ideas up in that head of yours. Don’t let them go to waste just because another idea, or a bunch of negative emotions, are trying to convince you to give up.

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Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of successpraxis.com.