To begin with, let me explain what I mean by “failure.” I’ll spare you the dictionary definition, we all know what the word means. But by failure, I’m talking about anything that didn’t go the way you wanted it to.
For writers, this could mean rejection by an agent, a bad review, a harsh critique, or poor sales or blog statistics.
For many of us, it’s very difficult to think of failure as anything other than an abysmal reflection on our efforts. It probably starts in school. Even in subjects where technically there is no wrong or right answer, for grading purposes, some answers are better than others. You either gain or loose marks, and that is it. Gained marks are good, lost marks are bad.
The world outside of school is a bit more nuanced.
Sometimes it’s not you
How people react to what you put out there, be it writing or anything else, is as much about them as it is about you. Oddly enough, I learned that playing an online rpg. Some of the characters thought I was fantastic, while others hated me.
Obviously, it was all preprogrammed. I could only complete the quests. What the characters said or did as a result had nothing to do with me.
It may have been just a game, but it translates into the real world. Just as the characters in the game had preprogramed responses, people you meet come with their own set of likes and dislikes. If someone doesn’t like what you wrote, it could just be that you queried the wrong agent, or for some reason attracted the wrong audience.
Whether you “succeed” or not sometimes doesn’t have much to do with how well you do it. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the writing world. But this fact doesn’t let you off the hook.
If the bad result isn’t your fault, you have to try something different. Find out where your audience really is. Find the right agent.
Sometimes it is you
But this isn’t a bad thing either. You have simply discovered a problem that needs to be solved. Finding out you write query letters badly, for example, isn’t objectively worse than finding out you queried the wrong agent. It feels worse, I won’t deny that.
But it doesn’t mean that you are doomed, or that you’re a bad writer (or a bad whatever-you’re-trying-to-be). All that’s needed is a bit of learning and practice. Possibly a lot, but that’s okay.
Mistakes are good. They help you learn.
Failure sucks. Sometimes a lot. There are numerous, rather common, experiences in writing that easily elicit in emotional crisis. You’re entitled to feel awful when this happens. But when the storm is over, remember that you’ve just discovered an opportunity.
Learn from your mistakes. Success is great but it seldom teaches you anything.