YWS: Embracing Failure

You’ve done it. You conceived of a story idea, sat down and wrote ALL the words and finally reached the point where you typed The End. You’re exhilirated. The world will gasp and hold its sides at how perfect your story is. It is, without a doubt, a work of art … sheer poetry in prose form.

I’ll be honest … I feel like I’ve just run a race when I reach the end of the first draft of any novel I’ve written and like I should be taking a victory lap. It is a HUGE accomplishment, and one we can all be proud of. Except the completion of the first draft is equivalent to reaching the starter’s line for the race, not the end. The first thing I do on completion of a first draft is put it away and go on to the million-and-one other things I have to do, whether it be starting a new project or polishing up an old one. I need fresh eyes before I go back and look at the masterpiece I have just penned … because I need to be able to see the mistakes. And they are there, I can promise you that.

Let’s say you’ve finished up the story, read through it again, confirmed your own conviction that it is wonderful and you send it off to be read by someone else. Someone who has a critical eye, because that’s what your story needs, someone to find those things that aren’t quite right to help you make sure it is the best story it can possibly be.

Then your story — your perfect little story — comes back and looks as if Jack the Ripper and the Warwick Slasher were having a contest to see who could rip it up the most. It is bleeding with red ink and your feelings go from confidence to failure in two short seconds. Thoughts start chasing each other in your mind. How could it be so bad??? Why did I think I could write in the first place?? Maybe I should give up? You have failed to achieve the effect with your story that you wanted. It’s OKAY. Failure is embedded in the fabric of success. No one achieves perfection the first time out. And in writing, I daresay no one achieves perfection. So let’s change how we view failure.

It has become popular to make fun of people’s failures … in fact, there are memes (Nailed It!) dedicated to mocking failed attempts. And yes, the attempt failed, but at least they tried. Something the mockers didn’t do. And here is the thing about failure, it is only the end result if you give up on trying to achieve your goal. You failed … so what? What did you learn this time to make the next attempt better? Because every mark on that story represents an opportunity to learn and improve your craft.

I am always extremely thankful for all of the red marks. Someone else has taken the time to help me see things I was blind to to help me make my story the best it can be. Does that red mark represent a failure? You bet, but it also represents something that can be fixed now that I am aware there is a problem. I really like the acronym for FAIL — First Attempt In Learning.

Instead of feeling down because we have not achieved perfection, we should relish the things we have learned through trying and failing. Does it mean we have more work to do? You bet. But nothing makes me happier than making my story better and stronger. Success is built on the back of failure — when we choose to learn from those failures.

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