‘Failure’ has several dictionary definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, one of those definitions is a “lack of success.”
Truthfully, I think the dictionary is wrong. I don’t believe a lack of success constitutes a failure–especially when it comes to writing.
But before we can talk about what failure is, we need to talk about what failure isn’t:
1) Failure is not rejection.
You will get rejected. It does not mean you are a bad writer or your book is bad! It means that you haven’t found the best people for you and your book yet. Or it could mean that you’re not quite ready yet. Either way “yet “is the operative word. If you keep submitting, you will find someone who is right for you, and if you keep writing you will get better.
Furthermore, if you wrote a book that you love, that you had fun writing, and that you’re proud of, then you have already found a level of success. This can be said about every step forward. If you have a book that’s complete enough to query: success! If you write a query letter that gets you requests: success! Even if those requests don’t get you an agent, it’s a success to have made it that far. This is true all the way up the ladder. It’s like unlocking a level in a video game; just because you haven’t beaten the game yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate overcoming a challenging level. It’s an accomplishment and no one can take that away from you.
With that said, it’s okay (and normal!) to be disappointed by rejection, but you shouldn’t decide that means you’re a failure.
2) Failure is not dislike/disapproval.
Writing is subjective. Not everyone is going to like what you write. I’m sure this is something you’ve heard before. But I want to talk specifically about disapproval from “people who know what they’re talking about.”
These people could be teachers, editors, agents, librarians, or any writing ‘expert’ or ‘insider.’ When we seek or get feedback from these people, it’s ridiculously tempting to add extra emphasis to what they tell us. After all, they supposedly know what they’re talking about. In most cases, this is probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re right if they say your work is no good. It also doesn’t mean you are wasting your time or setting yourself up for failure if you keep going.
Every book is not for every reader. Everybody has different tastes. If you’ve written a fantasy and your expert reader doesn’t like fantasy, then they’re not your best source for feedback–no matter how impressive their resume is. It takes a very special skill set to be able to read a book with elements you don’t like and see its strengths. Not everyone can do it. Listen to feedback from readers who like the kind of book you’re trying to write and can tell you how to make your book better. Trust them. Keep moving forward.
3) Failure is not changing your mind.
Maybe you’ve never written a book before and halfway into your first draft you realize you are enjoying absolutely nothing about the experience. You’re not a failure if you decide not finishing that book. You learned what you don’t like and you’re smart for not forcing yourself into something you don’t enjoy.
You shouldn’t feel locked into a goal that you’re no longer enjoying simply because you don’t want to be a failure. When you set that goal, you had different expectations. And you possibly didn’t know yourself as well when you started working toward your old goal. If you waste time on that type of goal, it means you’re missing out on working towards something that would actually make you happy. Learning what you don’t want brings you a step closer to what you do want, which puts your on the path to success. Anything that gets you closer to success can’t possibly be considered failing.
So, what is failure?
Really. That’s it.
Think about it–how many times do you hear writers/actors/musicians tell their success stories and share how close they came to walking away from all of it? They were one decision away from failing to meet their goals, but instead, they kept going. Now they have a success story to tell.
The key to not failing is to keep learning and to keep trying. Keep showing up. Just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it won’t. The only way success becomes impossible is when you take yourself out of the running. This isn’t just true for writing. It’s true in every aspect of life.
If you haven’t given up yet, you haven’t failed. In fact, you’re in the process of succeeding.
That’s all for this one!
Now it’s your turn: Where can you find success in your writing life? How have you succeeded so far? Tell me all about it in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.