Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt
The act of screwing it up, getting it all wrong and falling flat on your literary face is the worst, most evil thing that can be thrust upon the fragile ego of a creative person. No writer ever wants to be standing hip-deep in a congealing bucket of epically proportioned failure. Not only does it cling to you, branding you with the scarlet letter of incompetence, but the fumes from it seep into your pores and attack your confidence, enthusiasm, and self-esteem.
And even worse than failing? Atychiphobia:
From the Greek phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear” and atyches meaning “unfortunate” atychiphobia is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure, often leading to a constricted lifestyle, and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities.
But “fear of” is getting kicked to the curb in this post because—if you haven’t guessed from the title—I’m actually advocating for failure, which in my insolent opinion, gets a bad rap.
When you first begin to write for an audience, or writing in a genre that’s new to you, or in a different format, etc., your first attempts will most likely not be optimal. No two ways about it, no getting around it. Why? Because your life isn’t a movie, wunderkind wasn’t conveniently inserted into your backstory, and greatness isn’t DNA-encodable at this point in time, it still has to be strived for.
You. Will. Fail.
Fail to connect with your audience. Fail to notice logic issues in your plot easily spotted by a reader. Fail to end a story properly (if you even complete it at all). Fail in your use of words to convey the intended images. Fail to make a sale. Fail to impress your literary heroes. Fail to please everyone (always), the majority (on occasion), and anyone (trust me, it happens).
The only surefire way to avoid writing failure is to either never commit your ideas to paper—let them swirl around in the magical kingdom of your imagination, living their Peter Pan existence, as you vegetate in front of the TV—or never put your writing out into the world. If either of these sounds like a viable solution, good on you, and go for it. I’m not here to judge.
If, however, you’re not satisfied with letting ideas fester in your gray matter as you wait for the opportunity to unleash your genius in that perfect moment that never ever seems to swing around your way, you’ll need to look disappointment square in the eye and accept the fact that the outcome of your writing endeavors will not always line up with your expectations.
And though I’m not here to judge, should you actually consider never committing your ideas to paper, one possible adverse effect is that idea can metamorphosize into a bloated squatter that takes up an unnecessary amount of mind space, thereby blocking the arrival of new ideas. If it were me, I’d serve it an eviction notice and make way for a new tenant. But that’s just me. Still no judgments.
Once you’ve wrapped your noggin around the simple truth that you will fail and have given up feeling hopeless, weak, and belittling both yourself and your talents, you’re finally ready to accept the fact that failure plays a very important, incredibly positive role in your writing life. In fact, it offers you a chance to grow and learn.
The first step in learning how failure breeds success is to let yourself fail a few times. Experience it in it’s totality. When you discover that it does not, in fact, destroy you, feel free to brush yourself off and climb back on the horse. All successful writers have experienced failure (and a great deal of the time the success/fail ratio favors the negative) but what made them successful is they weren’t afraid to fail and if they did, they just learned from their mistakes and moved on. They didn’t allow themselves to be defeated by rejection, hurt, or disappointment.
There will be those of you who poo-poo (yeah, I said poo-poo, deal with it) the notion of getting accustomed to failure because you personally know someone whose first-ever novel made the bestsellers list, whose first draft screenplay became a Hollywood blockbuster, whose tweets became a TV series, blah-blah-blech. There’s a professional name for that phenomenon. It’s called a miracle. Right place, right time, all the planets fall into alignment. This is great when/if it happens, but you shouldn’t factor it into your overall game plan. It’s akin to being dirt poor and signing the deed on a mansion just because you’re sure you’re gonna win the lottery.
Well, writing calls, so I must be off—I’m sure I’ll speak more on this topic in the future—but before I go, let me leave you with a list to help you on your way to palling up with failure:
It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.
Sally forth and be failingly writeful, you intrepid writer, you.