Where are you in your writing journey? Are you NaNoing? Writing? Querying? On sub to publishers? In the midst of revisions? Taking time to read and improve your craft? Nurturing the seed of an amazing idea that’s taking root in your imagination?
Whichever of those things you are doing, or if you’re in a completely different place all together, I would like to take a minute to talk about something a lot of people would rather avoid.
No one likes to experience it, and a lot of us hold back on our dreams to shelter ourselves. But you know what? I’m a huge advocate for failing. I say let’s fail. Let’s fail BIG TIME.
Let me tell you a quick story.
I’ve just come off of a huge failure (or at least the spice of one that will flavor my success someday).
I am a 2016 PitchWars mentee. For the last two months, I have been working tirelessly with my mentor, Jenna Lehne, on my middle grade manuscript. We revised. Then we went through and did it again. And again. I am still impressed by and grateful for Jenna for how many times she’s read that manuscript and I know she would still offer to do it again. And again.
So, you get the picture. It was a lot of work. And here’s something funny. The first week of our partnership, I looked up her mentee from last year. Wendy Parris had an amazing 13 requests and is now agented. What?! How was I going to compete with that? I was so scared that after a dream mentee like that, I was going to be a huge let down for Jenna.
I reached out to Jenna and told her how I felt. She reassured me that everything would be fine. We’d work our butts off and I’d get tons of requests and a happy ending… whether it be from the agent round or this ms …. Or querying or another ms. She was in it for the long haul. But I wouldn’t ever know if I didn’t try.
And friends, I am so glad we got that out of the way at the beginning because when the first day of agent round came for middle grade manuscripts, I sat and refreshed my page a zillion times … and didn’t get even one request.
Yes, I am in the Zero Request Club (ZRC). The thing mentees fear but secretly think they won’t be in because, come one, we’ll at least get one request, right? We’ve worked so hard for months, there’s gotta be one agent who will recognize that and comment on our posts.
Truthfully, that day was TOUGH. The emotions from the last two months all came down on me at once, added to that the feelings of invisibility … or worse, inferiority, and I was in a dark place.
Anyone who has experienced failure knows how it feels. It is a tsunami wave, capable of knocking you off your feet. It is an eighteen-wheeler truck, flattening you onto the pavement. It is Jupiter-like gravity, crushing you to pieces. Oh, the weight of failure. It is too heavy to bear.
Alone, that is. When you take on your failure all by yourself, it has the power to stop you from accomplishing everything.
I’ve queried a manuscript before. I didn’t tell anyone. I sent off those queries and as the rejections came, I carried them in private. They burrowed in my heart, injecting me with darkness. On the surface, my body worked like it was supposed to and I went about my daily routines, but inside I was a jumble of misery and self-doubt. And the weight of it was one of the heaviest burdens I’ve tried to bear.
With this PitchWars failure, it was different. At first, I fell into my old habits. I went on a hike with my husband, trying to talk to him about the kids and what was going on that weekend, but after a few hours, I broke down in tears. I told him I didn’t have any requests and he comforted me. He said, the day is still young, don’t give up yet.
Well, the day grew old and still no comments came. My husband was so supportive, but I still wanted to hide in my failure by myself. I considered taking PitchWars mentee off my bio. I even thought about messaging Brenda to just take my entry down. This was all too embarrassing.
And my mentor? I didn’t talk to her for a while because it was all too much. Then I answered her when she asked how I was doing and I said, we talked about this! This is my worst PW fear coming true! I don’t even know if I can query this. I feel so disappointing.
And the gem that she is, she lifted me up. She let me cry, but then she helped me wipe away my tears. She reminded me we worked so hard for months and we weren’t going to throw it away because maybe my pitch, for whatever reason, wasn’t working like we’d hoped.
Then, you guys, amazing things happened.
SO MANY people started reaching out to me. Mentors. Mentees. Writers. Friends.
All sharing stories about how they were ZRC or knew someone who was ZRC and everything turned out fine. Or how even those with tons of requests still had to send those queries in. Or how sometimes you have to try a million times to get that one thing you’re reaching for, but you do it anyway.
And I was getting dozens of tweets and messages telling me they loved my manuscript. They loved me. And that it felt like I was failing, but no one thought of me as a failure.
Instead of falling down the dark hole of failure, I had hundreds of hands forming a net to catch me until I could stand on my own two feet again.
So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to fail. Take that leap into your dreams. Move closer to accomplishing your goals. Just don’t try to do it alone.
I thought it would make the failure worse to add embarrassment on top of it, but really, it wasn’t an issue. I just had a lot of people salving the bruises instead of me, all alone, poking painfully at them.
Find yourself a group of people, whether it’s 2 or 3 close friends, or hundreds in a contest with you, and make yourself a community. Cheer them on in each failure and success, and they will do the same for you.
And you will find that together, we really can do anything we put our minds to.
In the spirit of trying new things that scare us, one of my editing friends and I have decided to launch a new editorial service: www.writeon-editing.com and @writeon_editing
I’d like to give away one three chapter detailed line edit to a commenter on this blog. Just comment on something you failed at that made you a better person, and you’ll be entered to win.
Winners will be notified by 11/23.
Tara Creel is a Utah-native-turned-California-girl and mother of four boys. She edits for Month9Books and writeon-ediitng.com and she blogs at taracreelbooks.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter: @Tara_Creel
19 thoughts on “Guest Post: What do you do with Failure?”
I just wanted to thank you for your post and your encouragement to keep going (especially since it’s now the middle of November).
When I began dancing in college our dance program had regular auditions every quarter for different shows choreographed by the faculty or various guest artists. The first time I participated in an audition I was so scared, scared that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I would embarrass myself.
Well, I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have enough experience and I wasn’t trusting myself to push my limits and dance full out. I failed the audition (meaning I didn’t get called back to be one of the dancers for the show), but I learned that the trying part could be fun in and of itself, and that first and foremost I had to dance for me, trusting my body and continuing to find my limits and push past those.
So thanks for the reminder that failing isn’t an end.
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I love this story! I love that we can learn from trying and failing, and it pushes us to be better. Thanks for sharing!
Good post. Yes, true, failure is hard… and somehow trying to hide embarrassment comes all to naturally. I think of a time in Japan when my host mom had made special arrangements for me to go with her and her husband to some fancy event. I can’t even remember what that event was, now! But I remember the rivers of shame and embarrassment flooding my veins… I double-booked. I didn’t realize that my host parents had scheduled attending the event just for me (I thought they were going regardless!!). I chose to go with my other option. My host mom didn’t say anything until after the event… and the scolding she gave me?! Wow. My adrenaline-charged mind understood almost every angry, disappointed Japanese word coming from her mouth. It was – hard. But I gained cultural insights that I still use to this day. I think (hope) that now I could catch the clues if I were in a similar situation… that I would know what to look for, and connect more appropriately.
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Sad to say, but if you really want to write, this could be just the beginning. I’ve had 3 different agents for 3 different genres. Got to editorial boards a few times, had an offer from a small pub I turned down. My computer is littered w more than a dozen finished ms.
To the writing world, I’m failure, for all intents and purposes. But my goal to publish well – to not sacrifice my lovely little hobby for anything but the best- is worth more to me than anything else. My own satisfaction is paramount. I’m still writing, still improving and still in love with the craft.
Beware of the concept that success rests entirely on others’ approval. You believe that and you will struggle w self esteem forever.
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This is so important! Don’t judge yourself off of other’s opinions, only off of how you are improving against your past self and how you are working toward meeting your goals. You are so inspiring! Thanks for sharing!
You’ve gotta love learning experiences like this full of forgiving people who give you space to grow as a person. What an amazing opportunity! Thanks for sharing!
Failure is an interesting concept. The fear of failure from rejection can be paralyzing, but in my case my failure was self-inflicted. Circumstances didn’t begin that way, but due to my choices, failure was the end result. I was participating in a class on writing books for young adults. I was given the choice of writing fiction or non-fiction. My desire was to write an adventure story about kayaking set in Alaska, however, my instructor was more comfortable with non-fiction and strongly urged me to write my proposed non-fiction fossil book. I agreed. After the devastating critiques of the first three chapters, I put the book aside, dropped the course, and considered the whole endeavor one big failure. Because I thought the critiques were right on target, I tried several times working on the fossil book, but was always so dis-heartened. Consequently I did not write for children or young adults again for several years. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write, I wrote professional articles for my career field – all non-fiction. If I could write professionally, why couldn’t I write this non-fiction fossil book? I came to realize I didn’t want to write it. I had agreed to write it at my instructor’s recommendation, but I had no desire to write the book and the book failed. I was a failure, but no longer, because now I understand that even if you have the knowledge base and background to write a book, if the desire or heart to write is not present, then the writing will not be successful. Now I can look at this fossil book endeavor as an important growing opportunity because it really helped me define myself as an author.
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I love this so much! You need to go with your gut and follow your heart and no matter what successes or failures come your way, you will be happy to know you are following the right path. Thanks so much for sharing!
Yes. THIS. A million times over. I’m also a Pitch Wars 2016 mentee from the Zero Request Club, and I couldn’t have said this better myself.
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I love that we’re in this together! We’ll get there someday, I’m cheering for you!
I hear you (loud and clear) when you talk about not going it alone, which is what I did when I weaved my mom’s story into fiction. I had written for an audience of one—Mom. But once the book was written, I convinced myself it would tickle her if I actually got it published. A successful writer in our area suggested I post a sample chapter to an online site that publishers look at, so I did. I forged ahead on my own, knowing much too little of how things work in the publishing world. Apart from periodic feedback on my project from a retired doctor (aspiring writer), I was writing alone, critiquing my own work, rewriting according to my own advice, etc. So when a small publishing house did contact me and offer a contract, I lunged at the chance, thrilled that Mom would soon see her story in all her favorite bookstores. Did I mention I was going it alone? I was ignorant of the process ahead of me—didn’t understand the lingo, didn’t know what questions to ask or how to interpret what the editor was promising. All I could think about was how ecstatic Mom would be.
All seemed well for a time, but it’s humbling to watch your book NOT selling on Amazon. To see Kindle sales go belly-up. Failure has a voice, and her screams rattle your soul when you’re NOT getting reviews. Looking at it now however, I realize how much I needed to include others all along the process, instead of diving headlong into publication. And one of the dearest, most treasured lessons of all is that I’ve discovered I want to write well. I want to publish well. I know now that these things are better learned in the company of others pursuing similar goals.
Had it not been for this brush with failure I’d have printed Mom’s story on my best paper, wrapped the manuscript in pretty tissue, tied it tight with shiny ribbons and mailed it to Mom for Christmas—with nary a lesson learned. But through this failure, I’ve come to understand how much I need others, and how much I long to grow … and this understanding has made me a more attentive and intentional writer, a more determined and devoted student of the craft, start to finish.
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These are such beautiful words. A beautiful story. I am proud of you for putting yourself out there and I hope you have a wonderful future in publishing- writing well and studying the craft. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Tara for sharing and being open about it.
I failed in the first round of Pitch Wars, but I see it as an opportunity to keep working on my MS. The past two years of rejections and revisions have taught me that. I have come to the point where I’ve learned to accept the stage I am in…writing for myself and my friends. I will continue working and polishing and querying. Maybe someday one of my completed MS will become a book. I am fine with where I am right now because I can work at my own pace and write what I want. Advice blogs have shared that this freedom changes when a writer becomes agented and/or published. Maybe I’m comfortable in my snuggled spot on the couch where I write for myself only, but I won’t give up yet.
A funny story to share: I recently let a 10-yr old read my most recent middle grade MS “Space Dragon”. This is what he said: “My suggestion is that you write another one. I liked it. But I think it will end up in the slush pile. But its worth a try.” HAHAHA! 😛 Thank you, Brendan, I WILL keep trying!
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Oh my goodness, your son is so cute! I think we all feel like you do some days, but we keep chugging along, waiting for our debut novel, and then maybe we’ll be able to sell all the other manuscripts we’re piling up in our comfy space. Keep writing and keep trying, and you’ll be successful. Brendan knows, it’s worth a try. We’re cheering you on! Thanks for sharing!
Great post, Tara. I had a big fail sandwich this fall. In the course of a month, I got rejected from Pitch Wars, a job I applied for, and got demoted from my dance troupe. But I have made so many great friends among the other Pitch Wars hopefuls and learned so much; I don’t know what the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory is, but that’s the kind of failure this was. And I sent a story to Podcastle that was rejected but it got to the final round of considerations, so I think I may be failing better than I was, too.
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That sounds like a lot of writer’s journeys: REJECTION. And sometimes when it rains, it pours. But if you can get through months like this, then the yesses will be sweeter and your writing will be stronger. You’ve got this! Thanks for sharing!
Like Kimberly, I also didn’t get into Pitch Wars. It wasn’t the rejection that got me (since all the mentors were so nice with theirs, and I got some useful feedback too), but the feeling of no longer being part of the community after. I wasn’t sad, just sort of numb, because even while I congratulated everybody and cheered on my friends, I wasn’t sure what to do now. (Beyond editing/querying/writing, of course.) It was like this wonderful community from the Pitch Wars prep period had closed in, and I was no longer a part of it.
And then I sort of realized how silly I was being, because there were far more people who hadn’t gotten in than who had, and we had our own little community. That realization changed things for me, so I wrote a thing: https://twitter.com/i/moments/795073026748456960. And now that I see things a bit more clearly, I realize I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything in the world. (Well, maybe ten pounds of really good chocolate…)
In more practical consideration, I also wrote my college essays in what would’ve been the Pitch Wars revision period. And since I only have one chance with that as opposed to the many in publishing, me not getting in was probably a good thing. 🙂
But anyway, thank you for the blog post and the giveaway!
I love your outlook! I hope your college essays went well! And that thing your wrote: inspiring. You are so right. If we focus on the things we don’t have or the things we think we’re missing out on, they can pile up and overwhelm us. But if we try to stay positive and focus on the good, our failures don’t seem so bad and we will be happy with the knowledge that things work out they way they’re supposed to. Thanks for sharing!