No such thing as failure?

A theme I hear a lot from writers (not necessarily my clients, but colleagues and acquaintances) is something along the lines of “I need to be published” and “I have to sell this project.”  A little poking (gently done) reveals that these writers think if this project doesn’t sell or they’re not published this year, they will be failures, and no one wants to feel like a failure.


So, I dug up an old lesson from Dojo Wisdom for Writers and modified it here to help me make a point that is probably more important than any other point I’ll make this year: You can’t be a failure if you don’t give up.


The first time a martial artist walks into the dojo or the dojang (training hall) and performs a front kick, she doesn’t do it perfectly, or even correctly.  Does that mean she’s a failure?  Of course not.  It just means she needs more practice.  No one thinks she’s a failure because she couldn’t do the technique perfectly on the first try.  Everyone understands that the first try is just the first step – important, even crucial, but still just the first step.


One of the important lessons in martial arts is that you can’t fail if you keep trying.  Imagine that you’re in a self-defense situation. Your first kick hits the intended target, but it doesn’t make the attacker let go.  Do you give up and let the attacker do what he will?  No.  You keep trying. You do a second technique, and a third.  You fight for all you’re worth.  Only if you give up have you failed to protect yourself.


Those martial artists who give up are failures. They don’t achieve black belt.  Those who do achieve black belt didn’t achieve it because the road was so smooth and free of challenges.  They achieved the rank because despite problems and pulled hamstrings, they kept trying. 


After so many rejection letters it can be hard for a writer not to feel like a failure, and then give up.  But remember that failing only happens if you give up, not before.  So you can feel like a failure if you want, but you won’t actually be a failure unless you stop trying.


All happily published writers have stories about persevering through rejection and having to believe in themselves when no one else would.  That=s the nature of the writing life.  The ability to keep trying even after rejection is what separates the ultimately successful writers from the unsuccessful ones.  It’s not great talent or connections, but simple bullheadedness that makes the difference.


The next time a rejection letter, negative criticism, or unpleasant critique makes you feel like hanging up your pen, remind yourself that this is just the first step on the road.  With each rejection letter, you learn more about the business and about the craft.  Eventually you will succeed.  Put it this way: Are you going to let this person (this overworked editorial assistant, this picky English teacher, this nasty literary agent) prevent you from achieving your dreams by convincing you to give up?