Every writer has writing failures. I do, you do, everyone does. So it’s no big deal. Nine out of ten times, you can fix whatever it is, and — looking on the bright side — no one died, and you learned something.
While writing failures are common, few writers have processes to deal with them. No one teaches them to us, but if we don’t give up writing, we eventually discover them on our own.
It’s essential that we have processes in place, because over the years I’ve met several people who gave up writing because they couldn’t handle failure and rejection. That’s a shame, because although writing is full of roadblocks, you can overcome them… and often, more easily than you believe.
Rebuild your confidence in your writing after a failure
When we have a failure in our writing, no matter whether it’s small (the editor sent me 1000 words on stuff to fix in a 2000 word article) or big (heck, they fired me), we need to rebuild our confidence in our writing.
Instead, when a “crisis” occurs, try your best to step back and put it into perspective. How bad is it, really? Are you completely powerless to it, or is there something you can do to address it now? Once you’ve fully evaluated the problem — which should only require about five minutes of deep breath and de-escalation from your panic — gaining the confidence to tackle the issue might be easier than it first looked.
Create your own failure list: it helps you to learn
This company has a Failure Wall:
The brain is actually a “failure engine,” he says, and it’s trying to “interpret the world around us.” What’s more, it’s integral to remember our failures, because “we are making far more failures than successes. But over time, we learn. That’s how we go from infants to babies to children to adults.”
Believe it or not a “failure wall” (I have a “failure” notebook in Evernote) HELPS you. It may be childish to stick your finger up at failure, and mutter to yourself “sez you!”, but getting angry is better than getting depressed. 🙂
I learned this early. When I informed my startled parents that “I’m going to be a writer”, they laughed, and told me that writers starved in garrets. That made me cross: it was a definite “sez you” moment, and my temper fueled my writing aspirations for years.
Let’s look at three ways to overcome writing failures.
1. Fix it, whatever it is: make it good
You’ve just completed a project for a client.
A message lands in your Inbox: “We’re disappointed, not what we were expecting.”
Shock, horror… don’t panic, panic isn’t necessary.
Usually, in this situation, there’s miscommunication. Your client expects something, and you delivered what you thought they wanted. It’s time to be diplomatic, apologize, and make it right.
Pick up the phone, and ask what they wanted. Sometimes, your client doesn’t know. It’s time to hone your intuition: decide whether the client has changed his mind, and doesn’t want the project any longer, or whether you can, with a little calm questioning, discover what he needs.
If the client’s changed his mind, refund his money (always be helpful, and professional). On the other hand, if your client is just a horrible communicator, sort out what he wants and give it to him.
Either way, make it good.
In the future, pay close attention to your brief for a project. Write it in your own words, and itemize ALL the elements of the project carefully. Add your “in my own words” brief to the quote you give the client, and get him to sign off on it. Later, if the client wants to add extra stuff to the brief, itemize each item, and charge extra for each item.
2. Rejected? Try again, try more: use failure as motivation
Ah, rejection. Believe it or not, over time rejection stops affecting you. Truly.
Back in the day, I wrote for women’s magazines. This was way before email, editors communicated via phone or fax. When my project list was getting low, I’d send out five queries a day to various magazines until I was fully booked again.
As you might imagine, the “rejections” out-stripped the acceptances by about ten to one. Tant pis. I didn’t wait for rejections. When a query had been with a magazine for a week without a result, I faxed it off to another magazine. (If a magazine wanted a piece, they’d usually call the same day. They were well aware that writers sent their ideas elsewhere if they didn’t get a response.)
This led to a funny incident. I’d just faxed a rejected query off to Magazine 2 on my list for this query. Within a couple of minutes, the editor rang. “Yes, I want the piece on (whatever it was, I can’t remember), but you might want to take a look at the direction on the fax.”
Oops. I did. I hadn’t removed the first editor’s name. We shared a chuckle over that, it wasn’t a big deal, just a minor embarrassment.
The moral? No rejection is final, if you refuse to accept it. Look at it this way — you can’t “fail” if you never quit.
3. Still failing? Put in 10x the effort
Let’s say you’ve been rejected, and rejected, or you’ve failed at something. You really want to succeed.
One writer contacted me. She had 25 ebooks on the Kindle Store. She’d sold nothing in six months. Zero, zilch.
Although I didn’t say it to her, I thought that this was quite an accomplishment — to sell nothing??
I checked out her ebook catalogue on the Kindle Store, and gave her some ideas. (Basically, she’d messed up her meta data badly, and her titles were uninspiring, so I gave her some tips on how to fix that.)
Next, I suggested that she put in ten times the effort she was putting in. She had the time. She was out of work, and was aiming to turn ebook publishing into a full-time career. (For more on the 10x strategy, check out Grant Cardone’s excellent book: The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure.)
In other words, put your head down, and put in a massive effort.
Every time I’ve used the 10x strategy, I’ve succeeded. And my “sold nothing in six months” writing student? Six months later, she’s made five figures each month in the past two months — she’s full-steam ahead. The 10x strategy works.
It’s easy to “fail” at writing, but you can succeed anyway
To repeat — every writer has writing failures.
When failure hits, lift your head up, straighten your back, and get back into the game. John Paul Jones’ statement: “I have not yet begun to fight!” may be apocryphal, but I suggest you use it as your motto when failure hits you. It will, and you can use it to fuel your determination and success. 🙂
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