Congratulations! You failed!

If there’s anything consistent about the creative life, it’s that you will get rejected. A lot. I’m sure you know that already, but probably, when you first started sending out work, a part of you assumed that wouldn’t apply to you.

The first time I sent out a story, I had this fantasy–we all had this fantasy–that the very next day an editor would send me an email saying “I love this story, and I’d like to publish it and pay you money for it.”  And then I would tell all my friends and family and they would all run out and buy copies and they would all read it and tell me that they loved it and would notice (accurately) where they’d been slyly included in the story and think it a wonderful compliment.  (I had a counter-fantasy where this lead to a big, destructive argument, because it’s a more dramatic ending.)  That would lead to more stories, and some novels and the editor and I would become best friends who talked about my work over chilled white wine in my fabulous back garden.

This is not what happened.  Nor what happened the second time or the third time or the, I don’t know, hundredth time? (And my back garden is literally a pile of mud and debris.)

You get used to rejection, most of the time anyway.  You remind yourself it’s part of the process.  You remind yourself that you’re early in all of this.  But then, one day, it just stings. You’re not always sure why this one particular rejection stings so much, but it does.  And you start thinking “Why am I doing this?”

At that point, all the stuff about love and joy and creativity seems like much bullshit. You wonder, what’s the point of trying if all you do is fail, fail and then fail again.

The thing is, failure is success.

I know this sounds like DoubleSpeak (War is Peace. Failure is Success.) but what failure is, is proof that you tried.  You put yourself out there.  You gave it a shot.

Cold comfort, I know, until you think about how many people are not brave enough to try at all. How many people have a book in their head that they’ve never tried to write.  How many people have stories on their computer that they’ve never shown anyone.  How many people have paged through an old Writer’s Digest to look up places to send work and never sent out anything.

There comes a point in your writing career where sending stuff out starts to feel a bit routine. We forget what an act of vulnerability it is, to share our creative work with the world to be judged, or worse, ignored.  We forget, in the grind of getting stuff out there, that we are being brave.  That the first time we sent anything out we were scared, nervous, terrified and yet at the same time, enormously proud.  “I’m doing it,” we thought.  “I’m on my way.”

You’re still doing it.  You’re still on your way.  Don’t let rejection make you think otherwise.  Success lies in the process, not the results.




2 responses to “Congratulations! You failed!”

  1. What a perfectly timely piece. I just got my first rejection. Thank you! Thank you! (I bow regally.)

    The failure was really informative. I realized I was waiting for the results before deciding what to write next. If that first short story was good (accepted) then I should write more like it. If was bad (rejected) then I should change course. I discovered I entered the contest seeking a validating win rather than the chance to share my work. (To keep it real, the cash prize also played a significant role.)

    Your post, so focused on sharing your work not winning or being validated, is helping me get back to pen in hand. Merci!

    1. “helping me get back to pen in hand.” This just makes my day. 🙂 Thank you!

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