Failure: the very word makes us shudder. And yet most writers—even successful ones—face a lot of it. I know both sides of the coin: I’ve collected my fair share of rejection letters and spent years on books that still sit unpublished on my hard drive, but I’ve also had dozens of articles and three books published. I cannot lie: The successes felt a lot better than the failures. But another thing is also true: The failures taught me way more.
On Monday, I wrote about three things failure can do for writers:
1. It makes you strong.
2. It gives you confidence.
3. It can help you see whether you’re headed in the wrong direction.
Today, I’m finishing up the “5 blessings of failure” by adding two more.
4. Failure increases discipline.
My first novel almost got published. Almost. Then something happened and it didn’t. The details are too long and boring to go into.
The near-miss is a particularly poignant and disturbing form of failure—the kind that makes you raise your fist to the sky and curse the gods. And, more or less, that’s what I did. Then, I sat down, my jaw set, and worked like a fiend until I finished and published Writing as a Sacred Path.
I can’t say the failure of my novel was the only thing that got Sacred Path to the marketplace, but it sure helped. It made me utterly determined that I was going to “make it.” It almost felt as if someone had thrown down a gauntlet and I had the choice to walk away or to pick it up. I picked it up.
Failure challenges you to redouble your efforts. It reminds you that you’ve chosen a difficult path and the only way forward is—forward. Success tells us to relax. To have a glass of wine. To go out dancing. Failure tells us to get to work.
5. Failure forces you to focus on what is important.
When you succeed readily and a lot, it is easy to start thinking that the point of writing is to be a successful writer. When I was publishing articles in magazines for moderately tidy sums of money, I began to feel like the whole reason I was writing was to get my articles published and get paid for them. For a time, I felt this so strongly that I kept writing magazine articles even though I didn’t like doing it.
It took several years of feeling depleted and drained before I realized that there was no point building a writing career if I wasn’t happy writing. After that, I stopped penning magazine articles except for ones I had special interest in, and went to work on projects that fed my soul. Eventually, I found my voice—and real joy in the writing life. Even though it took a long time to achieve any substantial success again, it was absolutely worth it.
As I look back on my years of writing magazine articles, I realize that I would have found my real path as an author a lot sooner if I’d failed more early on. In this case, my modest success as a magazine writer led me off on the wrong path.
To me, this is the greatest blessing of failure. It reminds you that, as much as we deserve financial rewards for our work, as great as it would be to get rich and famous for our writing, that isn’t why we write. Publishing roadblocks, poor sales, negative reviews, rejections—all those painful things lead us to a clear-cut answer to the question “What is the point of writing?" The answer is: “Writing.”
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...