This week I'm happy to have Amy Lord as a guest on the blog. Her topic of failure is one that I can definitely relate and hope you can, too. Enjoy!
Writing a novel can feel like an exercise in failure.
For all the days when the words are flowing and you feel inspired – even powerful – there are many more where you doubt your ability and think about giving up. Sometimes you might even give in and put your manuscript away in a drawer for weeks, months, or years at a time. You think you might never write again.
But the desire to write never quite goes away. It lingers beneath the surface. Ignoring it will only make you feel like more of a failure.
Because that’s the thing: the only way to get over that feeling is to keep working. Maybe your writing isn’t great, or your story isn’t working. Your dialogue might be unconvincing or your characters unappealing. But these are problems that can be fixed.
I’ve learned to push aside the worry and self-doubt that comes along with writing because I had to. If I gave in to those feelings every time they appeared then I’d never write at all. And that would make me a failure.
I’d be a failure, not because I wasn’t a good enough writer, but because I gave up too soon. Nobody ever said writing a book was easy. In fact, there are hundreds of people who have said just the opposite.
George Orwell said that: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
For many of us, writing isn’t something we do because it’s fun; we do it because it’s a need. It’s hard work. In our society, we celebrate success stories, but we often gloss over the effort that lies behind the achievement: the years of working in a low paid job to get experience, or the fight to build up a business from nothing.
Writing is the same. Most people don’t see the hours spent staring at a blank screen feeling like you’re slowly losing all hope. They don’t see the days that went into making that one sentence perfect, or the blood, sweat and sheer agony that made that ending memorable.
Those people don’t know what it takes to get a novel published, or to make it successful. They hear about the books that win awards and make lots of money and they think that’s how the industry works. They don’t see the writers slaving in day jobs to earn the money to live, while their passion is relegated to an early morning slot before work, or late at night once the kids have gone to bed.
They don’t know how hard writing can be, or what it takes to get that book to a place where it’s ready to go out into the world.
When you’re writing, it’s easy to become isolated. Your existence narrows to the page in front of you and you become absorbed by this story that you’ve created: the people, the places, the problems. But that can make it hard to find perspective.
You feel like writing shouldn’t be this hard, not if you had talent. You worry that you’ll never be good enough, that no one will ever want to read your work. You obsess over the details.
There’s always another writer who you envy. And despite knowing how hard writing can be, you fall into the trap of believing that success came easy to that person. It makes you feel worse about yourself.
You wish you could write like Ernest Hemingway, or Margaret Atwood, or Maya Angelou. But they had their struggles and failures too; all writers do. That’s the one thing we have in common. Have a conversation with someone else who writes and the same things always emerge: we all doubt our abilities, we all worry that our words aren’t good enough or we don’t write as often as we should or we’ll never be successful.
Failure is a shadow that clings to us all. It’s never far away.
But one setback or piece of negative feedback doesn’t mean you should give up. It just makes you a writer. It’s a small part of your story.
Because those are the things that will make you better; that will make your work sing. We need criticism if we’re going to improve. It isn’t easy to take, but they say that nothing worth having is easy.
And writing; it is worth it.
Despite the pain and the down days and time spent agonizing over trivial details, being a writer is something special. It’s the kind of thing dreams were made of.
And if you keep pursuing that dream, wherever it takes you, then you’ll never be a failure.
Amy Lord is a writer, book lover and blogger from North East England who is currently working on yet another draft of her novel. She works in arts marketing and loves nothing more than exploring a new city with her camera. You can learn more about her by reading her blog, following her on Twitter or seeing her amazing photography on Instagram.