Failure is a four letter word. We fear it, we dread it, and we try to avoid it at all costs. It’s one of those sneaky words that writers tend to despise because we understand its power more than anyone; we know how many layers it carries, how much destruction it causes in its wake. We give it so much meaning, in fact, it paralyzes us. Why not, instead, commit this foul word to memory, stare it in the face, and run straight at it, helmet on? Why not laugh at its pathetic attempt to demean what we are worth? FAILURE, after all, only holds as much meaning as we assign to it. Don’t writers grasp the power of words better than anyone else?
How, then, must we cope with this ever-foul sense of failure? There are two skills we need to survive it:
ACCEPT WHEN YOUR CRAFT NEEDS WORK
This is really difficult sometimes because it involves balancing feedback from those who criticize your work, and listening to your intuition. Our ego makes us believe critical feedback is wrong, and that we just haven’t found the right audience yet. But in time and through lots of practice, we learn to discern the difference between all these voices and what’s good advice and bad. In time, we make good friends with humility–our best friend in writing–and discover the gems hidden within the harsh feedback or negative reviews. We accept that our craft needs work–and will always need work on some level.
I recently saw an article about a nanotechnologist named Jason Haaheim, who switched careers to become a timpanist in the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. His view of failure is right on.
Jason says, “I think, for a lot of people – and that’s not just in orchestral music – but a lot of people in performing arts, acting, just anything like this. You start off with a desire to do this thing, this passion about some sort of art form. And yet you’re not skilled enough. Your craft does not evolve to the point you would be able to do it. So I think a defining experience for a lot of people who get into these creative fields is you have to really embrace failure. Frame it as constructive growth and be interested in that.”
Once we develop to the point of becoming published, our learning shouldn’t end—and it doesn’t. If it does, it means you aren’t challenging yourself enough as a creative. It means you’re too afraid of failure.
Curious how other authors regarded failure, I asked them to talk about their experiences:
“Failure stings at first, then hurts, then hurts some more. But when the hurt finally lets go, reflections begin and they are always deeper, more important than those brought by success. Failure makes me rethink my goals, make difficult decisions on what I will work on next. And then–as important as any insights to my own writerly condition–it makes me more forgiving, more thoughtful, more empathic.”—Eva Stachniak, international bestselling author of The Chosen Maiden [Read more…]