The F-word (No, not THAT one!): Reflections on failure

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Not to have a downer of a post on a Monday… But I feel that failure is something that should be put out there. And I was doing a little thinking today about failure, and I wanted to put it out there.

This is kind of coming out of left field, I know, after a week of very positive, writing-oriented posts. But this one is positive too. I promise. It’s about failure, but it’s also about success.

Let’s face it. I’ve failed, you’ve failed, we’ve all failed. When I get right down to it, I’m failing all the time. And more often than not, I don’t want to address my failures. I did badly on a test? I feel overwhelmed and I don’t want to tell anyone. I failed my driver’s test the first time? Again, I don’t want to tell anyone. I failed to get an agent the first time I queried? Even though that’s something almost all writers go through, I don’t want to talk about it.

Until… I do.

The thing is, I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were catching up. I got my license not so long ago, passing the driver’s test on the second attempt. And even though I had seen this friend after I’d failed the first time and before I’d passed the second, I hadn’t said anything about it to him. Because I was ashamed and embarrassed and hadn’t had a chance to prove that I could do the thing I’d failed at.

Similarly with calculus, freshman year. I actually failed calculus freshman year. But I never told anyone about it until I took calculus the second time and passed with an A. Then I was all too happy to tell anyone. “Well, I failed the first time, but the second time I got an A… See, I can make improvement. See, I’m driven by failure.”

And it’s true. To a certain extent. But it’s also prideful, and it’s a one-dimensional way of looking at things.

Right now, I’m getting ready to head into the querying process for the second time in my writing career. The first time, I failed. I had a book that I deemed ready, and it wasn’t, and I didn’t get the agent I was looking for. And all of that is OK, because it came with little successes along the way. I got a full request! My first time ever querying, and I got a full request! Some people wait years for full requests to roll around. And several agents said they liked my writing and my premise! Those are all small victories. Furthermore, I may have failed in one way — in securing an agent for my work — but I succeeded in another, by writing the work in the first place and by sending it out into the world to face others’ judgment.

I think it’s important to look at both the small victories — the milestones on the way to success — and the failures they accompany. And it’s important to remember that it’s one thing to fail, and another to admit that you’ve failed without having the chance to overwrite that failure with a present success. As writers, we face rejection all the time, and there’s a chance that those rejections will mount into serious failures. But the important thing to remember as a writer is that the only true failure would be in giving up. And it’s the same in life: the only true failure is giving up on yourself and your dreams. It’s important to be brave.

So, as promised, I’ve ended on a positive note! Thank you for reading, and I hope that this post has invigorated you and helped you to think about failure in light of success… and without it. Now I’ve got some revision to get to. My next post should pop up tomorrow or Wednesday, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until next time, happy reading and writing!

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