Since I wrote about the immense importance of small victories last month, I felt it necessary today to discuss the underrated value of failures. In business and in life, we will see victories and defeats, successes and failures. Yes, victory is far sweeter to taste, but defeat often teaches us better lessons—if we’re willing to pay attention.
Personally I hate failure and that’s a trait I’ve had since I was a toddler. Because I’m a natural-born perfectionist, I absolutely despise failing at anything. A defeat if any kind makes me mad, but a mistake in my work makes me crazy. As frustrating as it is, admitting failure is a brave and a healthy act because it punches through the veil of personal pride to get to the truth at the center of every situation. If I want to know the truth about myself, I have to acknowledge my failures right alongside my successes.
Yes, I make mistakes. Yes, I do things wrong. Yes, I fail. And, no, I haven’t failed once or twice—I’ve failed thousands of times in many different ways in all circumstances of life. I’m not sure about the rest of the human race, but I find my pride feeling less like the over-inflated balloon that it is and more like the pincushion it should be with each of these uncomfortable confessions. Failure opens a person’s eyes in a way that success just can’t. Admission of success is often a simple pat-on-the-back. Admission of failure pushes me to think deeper, to ask myself “What went wrong?” and “Why did I fail?” Isn’t it interesting that the answers to these two questions are often the cornerstones to future success?
When I wrote about the immense importance of small victories last month, I first talked about failure. It was the failure of consistent writing in 2013 that pushed me to become more organized and goal-oriented in 2014. That led me to successfully complete my annual writing goal of 75,000 words almost two months early. Likewise I discovered failure when I began piecing together short stories to include in Musings. As I read all of my short stories, I discovered a few of my old tales which failed in some way as good fiction. Reading them led me to ask what I had done wrong. Contemplation of the answers in each case made me a better writer. I doubt I could have written “Winter’s Charge” or “The Twirling Ballerina” without first making and then learning from those flawed stories. Am I a perfect story-teller? No, but I’m getting better.
Now that those admissions are out of the way, we can skip ahead to my most recent writing defeat: this year’s National Novel Writing Month. The end of November saw my NaNoWriMo word count at a grand total of 13,145. That is a figure that is barely 26 percent of the contest’s stated 50,000 word count goal. It is also my lowest NaNoWriMo word count ever. In simple terms, I failed the contest. Again.
Of course, the month of November saw many small writing victories, too. I wrote an average of almost 700 words a day—more than twice the normal 300 words I usually write. As of the first week of November, I also surpassed my annual writing goal of 75,000 words. I also finally finished writing the Thorn and Thistle novella rough draft, which I’ve been working on for half a year. All of these are achievements of which I’m quite proud. That being said, none of them tell me why I failed the contest.
So why did I fail? Well, for starters, I really wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the contest this year. My mother always says, “Attitude is everything” and she’s right. A person’s actions often reflect her attitude. If my attitude is bad, then my performance will be, too. Neither my attitude nor my actions were all that stellar this time. Second, I picked one of the hardest pieces of material to work with when I chose to finish Thorn and Thistle during NaNoWriMo. The manuscript had been a breeze to write up until its last 10,000 words or so, then I kept hitting one writer’s block after another. I spent much of the contest wrestling the novella’s plot-lines into submission while all the while feeling that I still hadn’t done enough historic research to make the story feel authentic. A second draft should solve the plot problems, but I’m still researching to fix the second issue. Finally, I took time off to celebrate my birthday and Thanksgiving with family and friends. Of the three contributions to my NaNoWriMo failure, I don’t regret this last one at all. For me, spending time with loved ones is far more important than work—particularly around special holidays. It’s why most of my vacation time is scheduled around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and loved-ones’ birthdays. That is one failure to work that puts a smile on my face even as I groan about the rest of it.
Don’t misunderstand me; the failures I mentioned above were bad. They were and still are defeats in my writing career. But instead of sulking over or even forgetting about my mistakes, I learn from them. I might never publish my bad short stories, for example, but I will still keep them as reminders of what I learned, so that I can forge future successes out of the broken pieces of defeat. All I can say is that I’m grateful that I have enough successes to encourage me during my defeats and enough failures to remind me why striving for perfection is worth all of the hard labor.
Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!