In Defense of Failure

Sometimes I write for money. 

Now that you know that little fact, you can safely make three assumptions about me:

1) I drink a lot of coffee.
2) I occasionally talk to myself.
3) I face constant rejection.

Every time one of my articles or manuscripts isn't accepted for publication, I face a major rejection. Every time a client makes edit requests, I face mini rejections. Every time I'm passed over on a project in favor of another writer, I face rejection of another sort.

Don't get me wrong: sometimes I do something other than fail. But even considering the occasional successes, the rejections really do start to pile up after a while.

That's certainly not a bad thing. The truth is that most writers are actually terrible writers, at least to begin with. That's why the industry has this beautifully self-correcting system built in, opening the door for writers to hone their craft through ongoing rounds of trial and error. As author James Michener once famously said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Every rejection puts me a step further down that path.

Not that I sit here polishing my rejections like so many pearls. On the contrary. But within this framework, failure is better than nothing.

Difficult pleasures are not without merits, rejections are only final when we allow them to be so, and failure can be respected as a sign of effort.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Teddy Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic," Paris, 1910.)
I speak here not of moral failure or spiritual failure, out of which only the grace of God could bring beauty from ashes. I speak instead of professional failure. Of failed relationships in need of restoration. Of the large-scale failures of human society. Such failures as these become permanent only if we allow them to be so, and I, for one, refuse.   

Because even if full success may not be possible, there's still value in the struggle, and success is not even an option if we fail to try in the first place.


  1. It's a little different, but it feels terrible to set up at a craft show and have people not even stop and look at my stuff. My first few shows, when it would get slow and that would happen, I'd want to cry, but I've figured out that I just have to flip those times into people watching opportunities. (Don't examine the grammar in that last sentence, please. => )

    1. I hear you. A friend of mine recently did a well-advertised book signing, and not one person came. One consultant who I've talked to told me that authors are lucky to get four people at each signing. The struggle is so very real.


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