Friday, November 13, 2015

Let's Talk About Failure

failure, n.
1. lack of success.
2. the omission of expected or required action.

I am told that writing is hard. I read, often, that a lot of writers can't make a living wage, that they never get their work published, that they give up on their writing aspirations. That they fail.

Let's unpack that.

The first definition of failure is lack of success. If you define "success" as "making enough money to rival Stephen King", then yes, a lot of writers fail. Almost all of them, in fact.

If you define it as "making enough money to live on", then again, a lot of writers fail. But a lot of writers have second jobs, too.

If you define success as "getting published regularly", once more, a lot of writers fail. We live in a world of limited markets. We also live in a world of unprecedented self-publishing opportunities.

If you define success as "getting published once", or "making a bit of money"... a lot of writers will fail here too. But it's a lot less than the ones who failed to be Stephen King.

If you define success as "I wrote something someone else enjoyed reading", then you're looking at less failures still. Parents count here, by the way.

And if you define success as "I wrote something and enjoyed it", well, I'm sure some people manage to fail here. And at this level there's absolutely no shame in that. Go do something that does make you happy, friend.

Then there's definition two, lack of action. For writers that means missing the deadline. Not finishing the story. Giving up entirely.

Those are the dangerous fail states. They are also all curable. You can ask for an extension on the deadline, you can finish the story (or start one you like better - I know, but sometimes it is necessary), you can put the pen down for a few years and then pick it back up.

About the only way I can think of to permanently, irrevocably fail as a writer is to die before your ambitions, whatever they are, are fulfilled. And sometimes even that isn't enough. From The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, published posthumously:

"I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that's inside me!

When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?"

Anne Frank was definitely a writer, and she wrote something great, even if she didn't live to see the achievement.

So writers, don't worry about failure. It's not as common as you think, and it's probably not happening to you.

All your other worries are fair game, though. Like your word count. Hi NaNoWriMo, I hate you so much this year!

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