For me, getting published didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in a week or a year or even five years. It didn’t happen with my first manuscript, or my second, or my fifth. I have failed in every way it’s possible to fail while trying to break into the publishing business.
I now have a book just released with five more on the way. It’s still the beginning of my career, with (fingers crossed) more to come after that.
Michael Jordan said, “I have failed over and over and over in my life, and that is why I succeed.” So today, I am thankful for all the failures that preceded this.
In light of that story, I think of what is probably the most difficult part of a writer’s career: dealing with failure. It’s a good day to be grateful for it. Why?
1. Failure toughens you up. Writing is a difficult business, for everyone at every level. In some ways, it gets even more difficult the higher you climb in your writing career, the more success you obtain, because there are more people watching. Learning to survive the little failures that come early in a writer’s career thickens your skin, toughens you up for when the battles get larger, and the blows strike deeper into your ego– and they will.
2. Failure teaches you patience. The publishing industry is a slow moving ship. Experiencing the long waits between agent or publisher responses, working and reworking a manuscript to improve it, and learning how to manage the demands of life while wanting to withdraw into the world of your story, these are all lessons that prepare you for the realities of publishing after you sign the contract.
3. Failure makes you a better writer. Most published writers look back with gratitude that their first manuscript wasn’t published. Those who experienced instant success often express their regrets that they can’t go back now and improve their writing now. If you turn in a manuscript and it’s rejected, the wise writer will pick up that manuscript and study it again with an honest eye. It’s so easy to blame external factors: the editor can’t spot talent, nobody can get an agent these days unless they’re already published, the only stuff that gets published these days is drivel anyway. If you can avoid making excuses, then you can look at the real reasons you were rejected, fix those issues, and then emerge better at your craft than ever before.
4. Failure helps you bond with other writers. Published authors love to share their war stories. How many times that particular manuscript was rejected. How an agent who rejected them a year earlier just offered to sign them. How they got the worst review since the middle ages. Once you break into the business, you will want to be that author too. You will want to have a war story to share, so make it a good one.
5. Failure keeps you grounded. Once you begin to hear “yes” from agents and editors, there will be many things that can inflate your ego. People will praise your writing, celebrate your successes, admire your book cover, and tell you how wonderful you are. Amidst all of that, a little failure now and then – a low Amazon ranking, a bad review, an editor’s rejection – keeps you grounded and reminds you that while a “yes” is great, it’s still only one “yes.” Nobody is so safe in their career that they are immune from getting a “no” just around the corner. So stay humble and keep moving forward.
6. Failure keeps you choosing to write. Failing at something isn’t usually something we choose. As writers, that choice is with the agent, the editor, the contest judge, or the reviewer, and we often have little control over the reasons why we failed. However, we have total control over our response to the failure. I’m convinced that we’ve never truly failed until we give up. Everything else is just a temporary setback. So each time you receive a failure, try again and try harder. Try until you do succeed. Because each time you choose to try, you choose to continue being a writer. This is a tough business. The only people who should be in it are those who have chosen to be here, not only despite their failures, but because they have failed and choose to continue writing anyway.
So today, give a little thanks for the failures that got you as far as you are now. No matter where you are in your career, if you use those failures to help you, you will be further ahead tomorrow.