No one likes to fail, especially writers, yet I have always been impressed by the eventual outcome of failure. Operative word; eventual. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes is, “Failure has made a success of many men.”
There is something that rings true in this quote. But how does failure breed success? And why is this so hard to believe when we, as writers, are mired in failure/rejection?
Failure is nothing if not a great teacher. And by having my fair share of it (and then some), I’ve learned a few things from it in this business of writing.
1) Failure cuts your convictions to the core. Nothing like failure to test the depth of your commitment to the craft. Just the other day a non-writer friend flippantly said, “You know, someday I’d really love to write a book, you could help me with that, right?”
I just smiled and under my breath said, “No, I can’t help you with that because you don’t really want to write a book. You simply like the idea of writing a book, or saying you wrote a book. You don’t fathom the obligation of that casual comment.”
I’m sure this well-meaning friend doesn’t know the first thing about outlining a book, writing it, drafting a synopsis, crafting a compelling query letter, compiling a book proposal, investing a few years of blood, sweat and tears in the effort to birth a book, and coping with the rejection of an agent or two (make that 22) after delivering their baby.
If you’ve been through this a few times, then failure has tested your mettle. And if you’re still writing, well, then you’ve not only passed the test, you’re meant to write.
2) Failure sharpens your writing skills. I’m a much better writer now than I was a few years ago and I’ve been in this game many years. A string of failures challenged me to dig deep within myself and reevaluate my love of writing. Failure forced me to learn the intricacies of the publishing industry, how it has changed, what agents expect, what the market wants, how to edit my manuscripts, work with freelance editors, and most importantly, how a thick skin is essential to survival.
3) Failure defines who you are yet to become as a writer. This truth is best witnessed during the Olympic Games. Many “up-close and personal stories” describe athletes who are going for gold after having failed in a prior Olympics. These athletes have subjected themselves to four more years of torture. Four more years of intense training and pressure. Four more years of second-guessing themselves. Yet, if they eventually win gold, their former failure suddenly shifts from “failed attempt” to “overcoming adversity.” Former failure is now the melodrama of their success story.
Michael Jordan, arguably the finest basketball player of all time said it best: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over. And that is why I succeed.”
4) Failure makes success sweeter. Michael Jordan may have missed the game-winning shot twenty-six times but he also made it several times with six NBA Championships to his credit. His reaction in the locker room to winning the first one is captured on YouTube. This film clip is classic. Speechless. In tears. Overcome. Head leaning on the trophy in humility. Arms draped around the ultimate prize. A man alone on his personal mountaintop. Success never tasted so sweet.
Failure is a bitter a pill but it is part of the writing game. Yet, the secret to success in the writing game is to understand the subtle difference between failing to succeed and failing, to succeed.
Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Reader’s Choice Edition will soon be released. This special anniversary collection features new stories from readers paired with the Chicken Soup for the Soul story that changed their lives!
I was fortunate enough to contribute to this book with a story entitled, “Lawn Chair Living.” This story is about the value of building “pauses” into your life so you can appreciate it more fully.
This fine collection will be available on June 25 at most bookstores, Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and online at bn.com and Amazon.com.
Chicken Soup for the Soul, Inspiration for Writers was released on May 21st and is currently available in bookstores, Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and online at bn.com and Amazon.com.
This book features 101 inspirational stories on the writer’s life written by your fellow writers. Want to pick up your writing, pick up this book.