This blog was originally published December 27, 2017, on my Only for the Brave blog, which is being eliminated as I decided to merge the two blogs. Because failure is an important part of succeeding for writers, I felt it was worthwhile reprinting the series about failure here.
My last post provided a list of successful people who failed early in their careers. Did you see it? If not, you may want see it or revisit the list for inspiration. It’s quite an eye-opening list. (Failures: Part I)
But let’s focus on how we fail and how we need to fail in order to learn.
Consider babies learning to walk. They fall down a lot! No baby ever gets up and starts running. They practice.
Kids learn a sport through practice. After school, on weekends, during games, alone, with others.
Most anyone who plays a musical instrument, do so because they practiced. Same with dancers, painters, anyone learning an art, or a trade. They practice. (I say most because there can be the savant that amazes everyone.)
Failure Is Part of Practice
We learn when we’re frustrated, when we’re unhappy.
Let that sink in for a moment.
We learn when something is hard, when it requires our full attention, our full determination.
We learn most when we fail.
In failure, we learn how to do it right. Edison said, “I learned 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”
So, how does a writer move from failure to success?
- Keep writing. Finished your first book? Great. Start writing a second one, while you edit the first. Finished your fifth? Great! Start writing the next one, while you edit, polish, submit, or consider making changes on the other three.
- Be prepared to gets rejections. Maybe lots of them. I can paper the walls of my house with my rejections. Even the best writers still get them. Know that rejections are never personal. Your work just wasn’t a good match (think dating which leads to marriage) for that publication.
- Enter contests. Placing in a contest is a sign that you’re writing is better than the average. However, different judges could have determined different results. Humbling, isn’t it?
- Keep writing. Keep practicing.
- Take classes. I’ve been writing for nearly forty years and I’m still taking class AND learning new things.
- Get a degree in writing. Getting my BA in creative writing and then an MFA in drama were the best decisions I’ve ever made. One, because I was forced to embrace writers and readings I never would have chosen on my own, and second, the MFA allowed me to get a day job in my favorite passion and that job became fun! That education both broadened and deepened my writing skills.
- Read everything, especially read outside your genre. Analyze what you read. Stop and think about that phrase you praise.
- Write and experiment in different genres. If nothing else, try them just for the fun of it. I learned how to write better fiction by learning how to write scripts. I learned how to write better dialogue by writing plays.
- Find your niche. Most find their niche in a single genre. I finally recognized that my niche is a variety of genres. When I began having success in romance writing, I became bored. I still write romance, but I write fantasy, nonfiction, and other genres, as well. Thus the romance writing is part of the spice again. Variety keeps all genres fun and interesting.
- Keep writing. Keep practicing.
- Learn about the business!!! I can’t stress this one enough. If you know the business, you’ll know when someone is trying to scam you.
- Learn grammar. Yes, learn it. Find an expert who will teach you the rules. Otherwise, be prepared to spend lots of money to line editors who will fix your errors. It’s not a wasted skill. I wasn’t an expert when I began writing, but I became an expert by having to teach others. Seriously, the best way to learn something is to teach it.
- Read articles, the how-to books, and then ask your questions. Don’t join a forum and ask questions that you could have easily found the answers to.
- Join writing groups. If nothing else, find a few people and start your own group. There’s nothing more inspiring than meeting with people who talk your language.
- Find beta readers. People who will read your work and provide honest feedback. Like finding a marriage partner, agent, or editor, it could take a while to find good beta readers. They shouldn’t be relatives or best friends, however, unless they have a degree in English.
- Become a beta reader yourself. You’ll learn lots by reading the writings of others. You’ll see your mistakes in their work. And you’ll probably discover that you’re writing is better than you thought.
And above all, keep writing. Keep practicing.
If you still keep failing, remember Edison’s lesson of finding 999 ways not to do something. He had to keep changing his process 999 times until he found his success on his 1000th try. Nine hundred-ninety-nine times. Are you willing to go that distance?
Do you have the ability to change up what isn’t working? To put in the hours of practice?
If you do, then you’ll preserve your way to success . . . eventually.