On Failure

Last night, I sat down to work on my SF Novelists blog post for today.  I had an idea I wanted to work with, something I thought would inspire a lot of thought and discussion.  It would be smart.  It would be insightful.  It would have pushed our Technorati rank into the stratosphere.

It would have done all of these things, if I hadn’t failed miserably when I tried to write the stupid thing.

I don’t know how long I sat there, deleting one attempt after another as too scattered, too confusing, too preachy … it simply wouldn’t come together.  That’s a frustrating experience, and a little scary, too.  I’m supposed to be a professional writer, after all.  What does it mean if I can’t even finish a simple blog entry???

It means … very little, really.  If you’re going to be a writer, sometimes you’re going to fail.  Sometimes the story won’t work, or the idea won’t pan out, or the kick-ass ending will fall flat.  The better you get, the more you’ll be able to spot this sort of problem early and either fix or avoid it, but you’ll never escape completely.  And that’s okay.

It has to be okay to fail, because the only way to completely avoid failure is to avoid taking any risks with your writing, and if you do that … well, let’s just say you’re probably not the kind of writer I want to read.  (If I wanted to sound really preachy, I might say something about life being the same way.)

From talking to other authors, it seems like fear of failure is one of the most common causes of writer’s block.  We’re so afraid to fail that we get stuck, unable to write at all.

Please consider this your permission to fail.  Heck, if you really want to, you can even post your failures for all to see!  Aim high, crash big, and keep right on writing.

Because — most importantly – if I’m sitting here giving everyone permission to fail, that must mean it’s okay for me to fail sometimes too.

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  1. 1. Radish

    In full agreement with you. The most important lessons I’ve ever learnt are the ones I’ve learnt the hard way. But to avoid the risk of failure by not even trying?

    Yikes, and no thanks –

    I’d rather be a failure than a coward.

  2. 2. Laura

    Agree. I have enough failure, that it is almost a spice.

    When I fail to do something, with writing, I take a break and figure out a way around it. It teaches me to stick with something and not to panic.

  3. 3. Missy S

    Bwahaha… ok, sorry… that’s for the Grell character change. Very nice. And I love Grell. WHAT a difference! I can’t even imagine the story without her two canes.

    As for failure… yeah, realizing most of what I’ve written is childish and needs a higher than 4th grade technique was rough, BUT I am determined. Besides sometimes out of the failures comes the spark for new ideas and characters. And out of failure comes success (hopefully).

    Thanks, Jim! -Missy

  4. 4. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Just to toss in a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really top to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lied through his horror. I can take the next thing that comes along’ . . . .You must do this thing you think you cannot do.”

    I think that sometimes failing and getting to the other side in writing is what it takes to know that when you are slogging through something that isn’t quite working, or you can’t tell if it’s working, or what have you, that you really can do this. You’ve looked it in the face before (and it is horror when it happens) and you can get through. Successfully.

    But I’m really curious about what it was you were going to write about. Can’t wait to see if it ever comes together.

    Di

  5. 5. Jim C. Hines

    Di — I wondered if anyone would ask that. I’ll see if I can pound the post into shape for LJ between now and the end of the month…

    There’s definitely a lot to be said for experience, for knowing you’ve failed before and still been able to keep writing (or doing whatever) and succeed on a subsequent attempt.

  6. 6. Karen Wester Newton

    If failing wasn’t OK, none of us would be here. The history of civilization is the history of failing and trying again. To paraphrase, Rome wasn’t built on the first try.

  7. 7. C.S. Cole

    Completely agreed though it took a little time for me to internalize this. Timely post too, very timely. Thanks!

  8. 8. Marie Brennan

    . . . Grell used to be WHAT?

  9. 9. Jim C. Hines

    Marie — yup :) Grell was a very different goblin in the first draft. But she was no fun at all to write. I’m *really* glad I came up with a better incarnation for her character. Though now that I think about it, Talia from my current book reminds me a bit of Grell 1.0. Interesting how things pop up again.

  10. 10. Michele Conti

    That’s how life works though. It’s not that things are a bad idea, it’s just that it’s not the right time for them to be seen.

  11. 11. S.L. Farrell

    I agree, Jim. Failure is a great teacher… as I know all too well! :-)

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Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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