Look Close: Success Lies in Your Failures

Lately, I've been hearing this word from writers: failure. As in, "Let's throw in the towel on this failure of an experiment."

Or, "I feel like a failure because I'm taking four months instead of three to finish this phase of my project."

Trust me. I know this feeling well. I didn't meet my goal for the next draft of my novel after a visit to Minnesota (my home state and the setting for the book) left me feeling... unenthused. As in, maybe I don't want to write about Minnesota. I'm still feeling my way to the truth on hat one, and it's tempting to look at that as a big, fat failure. BUT. I know that I will go back to it. I know that I will figure it out.

When it comes to writing, progressing more slowly than you'd like is not failure. Figuring out that you want to write something else isn't failure either.

For some reason, in this day and age, we have developed a heated love affair with absolutes. I did or did not meet my goal. I am a good writer or a bad writer. I can publish or I cannot. It is a good idea or a bad one.

The trouble with this kind of thinking is that we miss out on a whole spectrum of possibility.

  • What if your idea has promise, and with one small tweak it becomes something far better than you'd imagined?
  • What if, by pursuing one idea, you stumble across another? One that excites you and leads you back to the page?
  • What if you miss your deadline, but along the way you figure out that in order to write well, you need to make time for rest, sleep, play?
  • What if you are so focused on the perceived failure that you miss out on all the things you're accomplishing?

As far as I can tell, the only way to "fail" at writing is to stop showing up and never go back. And yet every writer I know who has expressed some sense of failure continues to write. To figure out what comes next. To adjust her approach. To take a needed break and then return.

On the surface, absolutes like "you failed" feel true. Like a confession, or a doomsday sentencing. But there's always more to the picture--don't sell yourself short and miss out on the opportunity to see all that you have learned and accomplished.