Picture this: you’re sitting at your computer surfing the net in search of open calls for publication submissions. You stumble across one that seems perfect for a short story you just finished pounding out a day or two ago. You confidently submit the story, and you wait… and wait… and wait…
Finally, you receive an email from the publication. You excitedly open it and begin to read, “Thank you for sending us your manuscript. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to pass on this one as it isn’t quite the right match for this publication.” You’re immediately crushed, and you lock that short story away never to be seen again.
This is literally what happened to me the first time I worked up the courage to submit to a publication. I tried, and I failed.
Last week, I talked about how negative experiences as a writer shape how you approach writing in the future. But how does the F-word fit into this larger conversation about writing?
For many writers, failure (or the fear of failure) can be a paralyzing thing. From a sub-par grade on a classroom assignment to a denied business proposal to a rejected manuscript, failing to accomplish what you’ve set out to do as a writer can make you resent writing–it can even make you put the pen down for good. But what if I told you that failure was a necessary component for growth and improvement as a writer? (Brooke and Carr 1837).
In writing there is no magical formulation that will produce award-winning content every time the pen hits the page. You don’t just wake up and have an epiphany that you’re a writer with all the knowledge of writing that has ever been or ever will be. In fact, it is the opposite. Writing is a series of experiments concerning rhetoric, storytelling, language, and grammar. We try things. We fail. We regroup and try again. I think Brooke and Carr summarize the process best in their article “Failure Can Be an Important Part of Writing Development.”
The ability to write well comes neither naturally nor easily; the thinkers we praise and admire are not the lucky few born with innate talent. Rather, they are the ones who are able to make mistakes, learn from them, and keep writing until they get it right. (1844)
When you approach failure as a part of the writing process, new doors appear for you as a writer. Instead of locking away that rejected manuscript, you begin a process of revision. You ask peers and colleagues for feedback. You study genre and form to sharpen your skills. You recognize the fact that you don’t know everything there is to know, and you set out on a journey seeking new knowledge. According to William Arruda, “someone who survives failure has gained irreplaceable knowledge and the unstoppable perseverance born from overcoming hardship,” (Forbes). Suddenly failure takes on new meaning as a writer. It’s not simply a negative, paralyzing experience. It is opportunity for the expansion of knowledge and skill-building.
When you embrace the idea that “Writers never cease learning to write, [and] never completely perfect their writing ability,” (Rose 1787), the F-word becomes less intimidating. You embrace it as an inevitable (albeit sometimes unwelcome) necessity for the improvement of your writing. Then the F-word doesn’t seem so bad.
Arruda, William. “Why Failure Is Essential To Success.” Forbes. 14 May 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamarruda/2015/05/14/why-failure-is-essential-to-success/#197b6f667923. Accessed 24 Sep. 2019.
Brooke, Collin and Allison Carr. “Failure Can Be an Important Part of Writing Development,” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Kindle ed., Utah State University Press, 2016.
Rose, Shirley. “All Writers Ha,” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Kindle ed., Utah State University Press, 2016.