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?