Yesterday I failed.
I failed to meet a goal I had set myself for this blog, and I missed it by a measly four views. The skewed logic in my mind takes this more personally than it would if I had failed by hundreds, but the pragmatist refuses to dissolve into the puddle of self-hatred and despair that I would have five years ago.
This is because, despite making decent money as a freelancer, I fail consistently.
No really; I have a B.A. in History, my own writing business, I live with my partner of seven years, and I pay my bills every month, sure, but I fail more often than I succeed. All people who know me see, however, are these small, but tangible successes. This is true for everyone; dealing with failure is a fact of life, and so it’s how you deal with it that really counts.
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath
Someone once said, though I can’t now remember who (probably Stephen King, the mans a wellspring of quotables), that success is getting a personalised rejection slip. My fragile ego couldn’t take this when I first started out, but now I live by these words.
The key thing to remember is that editors of any ilk read and reject hundreds of offerings a week, if not per day! If one takes the time to scrawl and extra few words on your rejection slip you should take this as a sign that you were close enough to taste success, and that’s no small feat.
Lesson number one for dealing with failure gracefully is this; accept rejection, and reject the notion that acceptance will fulfil you entirely. Writers are hungry, needy creatures; even if you succeed today you will try again tomorrow, so why should a failure end your quest?
“Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are.” Greg Daugherty
Rather like carpentry or other crafts writing is as much a learn-as-you-go experience as it can be a theoretical exercise. Just because a finished piece is not worthy of publication doesn’t make it a failure; the learning curve can be it’s own reward. Dealing with failure well requires that you understand the value of each effort for its own sake. If you place value on the work itself rejection won’t sting so much.
It’s also important that you don’t let failure deter you from trying again, which can be harder than it sounds. Writing, like art, is subjective, and many critics or opinion-givers can be unnecessarily harsh or snobbish when giving out a critique. Learn to brush of what is pure opinion, and value solid criticisms of technique, form, and execution.
Taking it on the chin means so much more than just absorbing the impact of criticism or rejection; it’s about learning from it. Where possible ask editors, proofreaders, or beta readers to explain or follow up on negative comments. They might be busy, so don’t demand, but a polite request will go far with many people, and editors may take it as a sign that you are a professional, dedicated individual; small actions like this can turn failures into open doors.
Finally, dealing with failure and rejection will probably always require a few moments to regain your footing. The important thing is that you don’t let a few moments become a spiral into self-pity and existential crisis. Balance your need to lick your wounds with good old ‘get up and go’.
In my experience the best way to deal with failure is to do… well, this.
Think, dissect, pull it apart, and then do something useful with the black box information you gather from it. For me, this time, it was writing this post. For you it could be writing a short story, editing the rejected piece, or doing more research to bolster your weak spots.
Just don;t give up; repeat after me;
“Hello world, my name is [X] and I am a failure!”
Say it with a smile!