Failure is bad, right? It means you haven’t succeeded. It means your goals haven’t been met, your objectives haven’t been achieved. You haven’t gone about things properly, or you’ve just plain messed up. Most damningly, failure means there must be something wrong with you. You are clearly not a success. You must be a loser.
I take that on board. Of course it’s great to be a success. Achievement is a wonderful thing, and we all love to bask in its glow. If you gave me a choice between fame and glory or abject defeat, I know which one I’d choose any day.
But it’s not an all or nothing thing. I don’t base my self worth purely on the success of whatever enterprise I’m undertaking. If that was the case, I would be extremely careful about anything I did. I would never take risks and would only choose to participate in something if I was absolutely certain I’d succeed. Which, to be honest, would leave a pretty narrow range of potential activities, because I’m not endowed with such a broad range of talents. Life would feel pretty limited if that was the way I chose to live it.
I’m much more interested in trying new things, and challenging myself. I don’t know if I’ll succeed in these challenges, but I definitely want to find out. And if I fail, well hopefully I won’t make too big a fool of myself, and I’ll learn something into the bargain.
When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I had no idea if I’d be any good at it. When I tried writing comedy sketches, I had no idea if anybody would find them funny or not. Turns out, once they were performed on stage, that quite a lot of people did. Wheehoo – I suppose that must have been a success.
Then I decided to try and write a novel. Had no idea if I had the goods but I definitely wanted to give it a go. So I did, and I managed to produce several drafts of a full-length work. Where is it now? Safely tucked away on my computer’s hard disc – with some paper copies at the back of the filing cabinet. I never did manage to find a publisher and in the end I decided to shelve it permanently – I have no plans to even self-publish it. Was it a failure? Some may say so, given that publication was definitely part of my original goal. But, to me, just following through and completing a novel-length draft was a major achievement in itself, and a definite step on the pathway to becoming a better writer.
Over the following years, I’ve continued to challenge myself. Can I write a detective novel? Can I write a picture book? Can I write an epic fantasy? Can I write a story with a female protagonist? Each time, I’ve had a go, and while I can’t vouch for the success of the final products (that’s really up to readers) I feel pretty proud that I’ve managed to follow through on each of those challenges, rather than sitting back and repeating myself with every story I write.
My latest challenge contains a number of elements, none of which I’ve tried before. Can I write a story with a dual narrative? Can I write a romance? I’m working hard to find the answers to those questions – I’m now 60K words into a first draft. At this stage, I have no idea whether I’m going to succeed or fail, but I’m having a great time trying. And that, to me, is the surest indication of success.
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