Failure As an Option

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure. The Sam Beckett quote on my blog I take very seriously.

When we start out as writers, we have nothing to lose. We don’t know any better. We write what we know to a certain extent. There’s no formula for what will get us published. Then at some point, we have a little success: Our manuscript finds a publisher, an online journal publishes our first story, or a newspaper picks up our op-ed piece. And we’re OK with the uncertainty of putting our art in the world, at least in the beginning.

Then we try to repeat our success—that’s when the pressure begins.

Many successful writers make money on doing what works. Maybe they think of themselves as brands and put together well-heeled marketing efforts to cover all mediums—nothing wrong with that. For poets, repeat success means an meager income stream: residencies, speaking engagements, classroom visits, guest editorships, etc. But in order to challenge ourselves as artists, we must constantly innovate. In other words, in order to reach a new level in our work, we must risk failure.

I think failure keeps us from finding what we were meant to do. And failure is relative, isn’t it? I had a marriage that didn’t last. But I have two beautiful children, my second book or the way, and work in line with my values. None of that would have happened if I wasn’t willing to take risks. And the great part is that I can use it all--directly or indirectly--in my writing.

Starting a new project, something vastly different than anything we've ever tried, is not easy so I don’t want to minimize the effort. We've certainly seen enough authors create something that diverges from their trademark style or image—with mixed results. I applaud them. Those are the real risk-takers. They leave behind the familiar for new territory, while filling that creative well to set up the next big imaginative leap.

Once we feel it in our bones that failure is an option, we can dare to fail better.

We fail in order to learn. It is the fastest way to grow as a artist. But as a culture, we don’t spend enough time talking about failure. Heaven forbid we admit to what we don’t know. Maybe writers have it easy. I wouldn’t want to come to the page if I didn’t risk failing every single time.


Anonymous said…
Exactly the right words I needed today!
January said…
Thanks! Glad it helped. :)
Cindy Veach said…
Bravo Jan!

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