A to Z Challenge: Failure

Mmm… today I’m seeing some shudders amongst those not-quite-so-new novelists among you.

For very. Very. Good reason.

Because failing sucks.

Really does.

And I’d be incredibly sympathetic except for a tiny little insignificant little truth that we vets know about and you don’t. Stop giggling vets. I’m going to spoil your fun and tell them.

Brace yourselves, kids, it’s a big one.

There is no such thing as a failed book.

You know those half finished works in progress hidden under your beds and in boxes and drawers? Nope. They’re not failures. Not even the terrible ones.

Okay new kids, you can stop gaping. It’s really true. Ask anyone who’ve been in the game for a while.

The reason for this is twofold:

Firstly, a failed book is only a failed book once you’ve given up on a story for ever. And I guarantee that you won’t. The reason why I know is because of the second reason why failed books don’t exist.

Every new project you start is a lesson in what works and what doesn’t. So yeah. Some of your old stories will have sucked. But never all of it. Maybe there’s an awesome character waiting to come to life. Or the basic premise was AMAZING but you didn’t have the chops to pull it off.

Guess what. You’re learning. Every time you take on a new story, you’re learning. And if you have an open mind to what critique partners have to say… If you pay attention to the lessons other writers learnt (blogs are brilliant sources of this sort of information, by the way)… Guess what. You will learn even faster.

And once you have the chops, you have three choices. You can use everything you’ve learnt up to this point and write something completely different. Or you can go back to one of the previously imagined failed manuscripts. There, you can either rewrite the whole thing using your mad new writing skills, or you can recycle everything you can use and start something better with it.

So I’m asking you nicely. Please please stop being afraid of failing. Try being excited about learning instead. And if you have to give up on a project, don’t get rid of it. Don’t forget about it. Because something inside might just be what gives you a bestseller idea.

How have you used knowledge gained in “failed” writing projects?


66 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Failure

  1. I shelved my first novel attempt when I realized I was being too nice to my characters. Although they were is a daunting situation, it was all lovey-dovey kumbayah around the campfire, and no tension between them. The lesson? Your characters are there for your sadistic amusement, so torture them!

  2. You are correct, even from my “failed” MS I've learned and used that knowledge and parts of the story transformed into something else in another story. Failure is when you stop learning, perhaps?

  3. Absolutely right, Misha….great post and awesome advice. Nothing should ever be lost on our writing journey and we can take away lessons even from the worst thing we've ever done.

  4. One thing I've learned is to move on and not fret over the time and the energy I put into a piece. That time and energy was part of the learning I had to do. The piece failed, but I didn't.

    Loved the post!

  5. A group of inventors were working on a new superglue. The only problem was it wasn't very strong, but it seemed to hold its stickiness well. They had inadvertently invented the sticky note!

  6. Misha, this is FANTASTIC advice and SO TRUE! I love how you keep the positive in this and I couldn't agree more!

    Every new project we work on stems from something valuable we have learned from previous projects… And you are so right… We SHOULD be excited about learning…. Me give up on it … A stagnant mind will just wither and decay!

  7. Great advice, congrats about your book! And, happy to see you again via the A-Z blogging challenge. My theme is the Enneagram again. This time, I'm matching people up and seeing how they play off of one another.

  8. I'm currently writing my first book. I'm also blogging about it so it was a pleasant surprise to find your blog. It's nice to know other writers have the same problems. I've complete a few books before and they've been rejected for one reason or the other. The book I'm writing now feels like the one that will get published and I'm putting my all into it to make sure it is.

  9. Hi Misha,

    Actually, I have no fear of failure. I have fear of success. Thus that can keep you in your uncomfortable comfort zone. An informative and thoughtful posting, Misha.


  10. Hi Misha, Your perspective on failure is true of every area of life. Even if you do stick it away in a draw, it has laid a foundation for something else. You have grown through the experience somehow. It is good to realize that failure isn't failure unless you allow it to be. Good post. Thanks. God bless, Maria from Delight Directed Living

  11. Nothing in this life is a mistake, useless, or a waste if it gets us to where we are now and we learn from it. I've permanently shelved the first series I wrote about my Atlantic City characters, but I've stayed with the characters for over 21 years now and simply have used them in other books, as I've matured as a writer. I did get some good storylines and new characters out of that series, which I'll be using in other books.

  12. Really good reminder. How can any writing be a failure? That's like saying practicing the piano is a failure if it's not played perfectly every time. I think the problem comes in confusing writing with publishing with sales. All 3 different things.

  13. Was thinking about this today- failure, I mean. It is defeating at first, but it also makes us better in the long run. I have a manuscript I shelved but not the basic premise… and one day in the not-so-distant future, I know I'll come back to it.
    You're right. A trunked book is never really a failure.

  14. So true! I've had scene ideas that didn't work elsewhere suddenly fit in perfectly with a new piece, or even inspire an entirely new piece. And, as I often say, all writing is writing. Whatever you've written, like you said, is practice. It's experience you've just gained. Consider it forward progress.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  15. Such great things to remember! Our stories continue to evolve, thus keeping them alive. I've learned a lot from the mistakes of my first book, helping me to grow as a writer. That's one of the great things with self-publishing…you can go back and fix/change things…nothing is “final.”

  16. Misha, I really enjoyed this post. It is a reminder that we don't need to give up on any idea. We can open up new paths to create new ideas based on the original one. The mind is fascinating. Imagination is boundless.

  17. Great post Misha!
    You've given me a different perspective on the topic.

    Dankie vir die “vrot kaas” kommentaar wat jy op my F-pos gelaat het. Baie slim antwoord want die woord klink soos 'n kombinasie van Afrikaans en Frankryk… wel, net 'n bietjie…

    Writer In Transit

  18. That's awesome!

    I'm also slowly circling back to the stories I've started on before Doorways, seeing if I want to redo them or what.

    Mostly, though, I have to go by memory. Because my drafts have historically had a terrible way of being lost.

  19. Hey Wade! Pleased to meet you. Knowing that you're not suffering alone is definitely one of the good things about blogging.

    Also, sounds like you have a winning attitude. Don't give up!

  20. You know, part of me fears success as well. I spend so much time working towards it that I don't know what will happen once I reach that point.

    I'm sort of like a Jack Russel catching tires, I guess. Except I'm really wanting to catch one so I can see what I'll do with it.

  21. Glad you appreciated my post, Maria, and I agree that my view on failure applies to life in general.

    In fact, I took this lesson from life first before applying it to my writing.

  22. Definitely. I'm learning this nothing is final truth all over again. I thought my book was done, but now it's just going through everything again before I can publish it.

  23. I love your title – now I have that adorable “King and I” song going through my head! Thanks for all the tips on writing and good luck with Etopia! πŸ™‚

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