The Value of Failure

Today’s post is brought to you by an overwhelming and year-long feeling of failure.
As I logged into WP to write this, I saw my previous post about all of the successes I’ve had over the last couple of years since I last applied for a Kresge Fellowship. Despite those successes, I’ve been grappling with my feelings of failure and diminishing drive to write for at least a year now, but probably longer.
Now, I think I’ve figured out why.
I was brought up to value work. I’ve been working professionally since I was 14, but I’ve had summer jobs since I was eleven. As I worked these jobs for okay – sometimes bordering on decent – money, I dreamed of the day I could make my living at writing. It was what I loved to do and I wanted to make enough money at it so that I could build what I considered to be a successful life.
In college, I eschewed a career that, to me, would just be another Joe-job. I went back to Wayne State’s English Department, graduated, and set about the work of becoming a successful writer so I could build my successful life.
Along the way, I developed a strong, supportive, and loving relationship.
I got a job making decent money regularly and good money sometimes. Then, I became full time at my job, so my money become good regularly and great when I could score some Oscar Tango.
I moved out of my mom’s house into a rented house, then bought a house last fall.
I was building a successful life for myself. Although writing was still a big part of my life, it was no longer my ticket.
I continued to educate myself as a writer and fulfill my goals. My first book was published, but it wasn’t what I expected at all. I went to conventions and street fairs and sold books and had a good time. I didn’t start on a new book right away, but that was fine because I was working to sell and promote Clean Freak. But I wasn’t worried. I’d start work on a new project when it felt right. I was invited to submit work to a couple places that I was excited about. Things seemed to be going okay.
Then, things started going wrong.
I decided to part ways with my publisher after the expiration of our year contract because of my perception of his handling of the business side of things. (We parted amicably and are still in contact. This isn’t going to turn into a tell all like the recent flare up with Damnation Books.) I submitted work to the couple people that asked, expecting answers and feedback that weren’t coming.
I hit rock bottom when I tried writing something for a submissions call – which is something I don’t normally do, and did only because by that time I was desperate to write something and I felt that a deadline would be the motivation I needed – and was unable to bring myself to finish the story. I doubted everything. The story’s originality and quality, my abilities as a writer. Everything. In desperation, I submitted the unfinished manuscript with the secret hope that the publisher would like it and tell me they wanted to see the finished story, which would validate me.
I didn’t get a response, which is perfectly fine because that’s not how this game works.
With all of these perceived failures mounting and my continued success in my non-writing life, writing became less of a drive. Maybe an obligation. A chore. Something I thought I should be doing, but couldn’t bring myself to do. Or, when I did, I’d start on a project and have immediate doubts, not coming back to the desk after the first burst of creativity.
That’s where I’ve been languishing for the past six months. Not even wanting to write, but desperately wanting to want to write, unable to muster a compelling reason why I should continue to bang my face against a wall that didn’t seem to be moving.
Until today.
Today, my loving and supportive partner tagged an article for me on Facebook, a list of inspirational quotes from JK Rowling about failure.
Reading the article, I remembered the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose failure as an opthamologist led to his having time to write detective stories.
And it hit me what had been going on. The full picture. Not just being disheartened by one isolated incident, but how all of my failures of the past year have conspired with my successes in my non-writing life to try to lure my away from writing.
I’ve decided I don’t want that to happen. This is only the first step of what I hope will be a transformative process, but I feel good about my decision. I can feel confident in saying, “To be continued…”
Do it because you love it


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