Sunday, April 21, 2013

Failure

Last week I wrote about waiting to be validated as a writer. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semi-finalists hadn't been announced yet, and I wrote about the importance I was placing on the results, and whether validation would change anything about my writing.

Well, the results are in.  I am not on the list of semi-finalists.

It took me a day or two to get over it.

The other day I read a blog post about failure. I think the author was trying to be funny when she listed the top ten reasons why being a failure is a good thing. She proudly proclaimed herself a failure and noted that failing gave her the kind of freedom winning never could. Since no one could possibly expect anything of her, she could do whatever suited her without anyone taking notice of her.

Perhaps. But I didn't really believe her.

Failure stings. Losing hurts.

Nobody enjoys pain, so we look for ways to mitigate the loss, deny it or wish it away. But if we're honest, the disappointment of losing still hurts.

Some of the things I've heard writers say in the throes of disappointment are destructive.

  • "Those judges/critics don't know what they're talking about. My work is great. They're the fools for not seeing it.
  • "I was judged unfairly because my story is not a carbon copy of  _________." (Name it: whatever the fashionable genre, style, or subject matter is at the moment.) 
  • "My work is too avant-garde." (or too realistic, too dark, too optimistic, too uplifting, too humorous.)
  • "I guess my work really stinks after all. I should just give up."
  • "I knew I'd never win. Why did I even bother to enter? It's a waste of time to even try."
In these examples, the writer either blames somebody else or himself for his failure. 

If it's somebody else, it's either the judges who are too stupid to know genius when they see it, or it's the zeitgeist that is all wrong. Either way, the writer is helpless to change the situation.

If it's himself he blames, he sees it as something intrinsically wrong with him, his writing, or even his luck. Again, he is helpless to change the situation.

But there are other responses to losing that are more empowering. 

Notice, I didn't say they take away the sting, only that they leave us with a sense that we are, to some degree,  in charge of our own outcomes.

When successful writers lose( or fail), they are likely to say one or more of the following:

  • "Out of ten thousand entries only twenty-five made it to the semi-finals. Those are tough odds for anyone. I did well making it to the quarter-finals."
  • "I'm going to read the reviews of my work to see if I can learn something from them."
  • "I'm going to read the winning entries to see if I can learn something from them."
  • "If the judges/critics misunderstood what I was getting at, maybe I wasn't clear enough. I'll take a look and see if the story got muddled somewhere."

You get the idea. 

In these examples, the writer does two things that will help her improve as a writer:
  • She takes responsibility for her work without going down the rabbit hole of self-flagellation.
  • She treats her work as something outside herself--a product, if you will--not as a part of her heart and soul.
In other words, she treats the loss as a problem she can solve rather than as a blow to her self-esteem.

May we all learn from our experiences.

Have you ever had a failure or a loss? How did you handle it?

10 comments:

  1. Ugh-- There is a process of dealing with not achieving the goals we set out for ourselves, isn't there? I'm with you. It stings. It seems I always go through a process when a piece is rejected or doesn't win. I hurt; I'm embarrassed; I feel like a failure who will never "make it". Then I go through the blame and anger phase. Then usually I settle down, read winners so I can learn, and try again. Sometimes it does feel like chipping at an iceberg with a fork, but little by little, progress is made.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Chipping at an iceberg with a fork!" What a great description of how it feels to keep on growing as a writer. In fact, it applies to every area of our lives where we have to feel the sting of defeat in order to learn how to do better. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete
  2. Thanks Lee for the information.Once again you have taken me to school.I will definately apply this info to my art work.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This... is such a great post. "She treats her work as something outside herself--a product, if you will--not as a part of her heart and soul." This is so hard for writers to do, because we pour our hearts and souls into what we make--the next step is learning how to distance ourselves from it.

    Thank you for the words of wisdom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right. It's very tough! Not easy at all! Sometimes I wonder how we manage to keep writing!

      Delete
  4. Hi Kathleen, I'm glad I dropped by because I can definitely relate to feeling momentary failure. Failure stings and losing hurts, indeed. I've had my share of rejections and I try to acknowledge the sting for a moment (and just that moment), then tell myself that it needs to subside and I need to 'nourish.' Reading is usually my ointment and I get inspired to write brilliant stories ~ and that's when I know I'm back on the horse. Wishing you plenty of 'nourishment' and looking forward to your future posts!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Claudine! I love what you said about nourishment. Where can I find your "brilliant stories"?

      Delete
  5. Wow I am sorry you didnt win but congrats on the semi-finalist route. I think you are right about the emphasis we place on failure.. its hard to think we can fix it but easier to blame others or just give up.

    Thanks for your honest and open look at the art of failure.

    Amber

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words. I love your phrase, "the art of failure." That's just what it is--an art! But so hard to learn.

      Delete
  6. I hope you're not discouraged, sometimes the greatest things in life come from the not so perfect moments that can really get us down. :) It is such a great triumph in itself to put yourself out there. Certainly a courage that many don't possess, as I believe that courage can come in many forms. I am a closet writer myself, never having put myself out there strictly out of fear of being judged. I admire your strength and ability to put your heart into your art and share it with the world. :) I am a new follower on gfc and by email, I hope you'll find some time to stop by my blog as well sometime when you have a chance. Thanks for your insight!

    Sarah
    http://justtryingtoletitbe.blogspot.ca

    ReplyDelete