Having the Courage to Fail

It’s a true thing in life that you cannot have joy without taking risks. Here’s the thing about that. You are going to feel pain. There’s no question about that. If you hide away from every possible thing that might harm you, you will be lonely, bored, unhappy, and so accustomed to the habit of fearfulness that you will be afraid anyway. There’s no way to avoid pain. The question is, as Lois McMaster Bujold said, how much joy can you wreak from life in addition to the pain?

None, unless you’re prepared to take risks.

There are writers who never finish anything. There are writers who spend their lives going to conventions, learning more about the craft of writing, polishing and working, writing the same unfinished piece over and over. There are some who get a great new idea in the middle of their current work and start anew, only to have another idea in the middle of that. And there are some who don’t really write much at all, just keep identifying as a writer and meeting other writers to discuss the business and the craft, without producing much of anything.

These people are not fools or idiots. But it’s possible that they’re afraid.

Afraid of failure? Of getting a thousand rejection slips, of pouring their soul out onto the paper and having someone with a great deal of experience and discernment in the field shove it back to them without even a personal word? Oh yes.

Afraid of success? Of having to do it again after you succeed with the first one, of having to support and care for the finished work, of having to promote it, to see an editor slash huge changes in your beloved piece? Oh yes. This is where I lived for a long time.

If you consider yourself a writer, but it’s been a year since you started calling yourself that and you haven’t sent anything out to an agent or publisher in that time, you might be suffering from some of these fears. And they are justified. All this stuff is frightening, is hurtful, is painful. It takes a thick skin to survive a lot of criticism, and yet you can’t let the world in and out in that great rush of breath that is writing, with a thick skin. Somehow you have to juggle those two needs.

So this is a good time to take stock. Do you really want to try to get published? Or are you just writing for yourself, your friends, for the social aspects? Yes, you can have both. But if you really want to get published, it’s best to consider whether you suffer from fears like these, and decide what to do about it.

There’s only one thing to do about it.

Finish something. Limit how long you edit it. THEN SEND IT IN. That is courage, and that is what has to be done if you want to fight your fears. The only way to do it the easy way is first to do it the hard way.

There’s no other way. You can do it.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pam
    Sep 26, 2008 @ 11:34:02

    So some of this you got from our meetings, right? Because I see a lot of our attitudes in this. (well, me and doug anyway) Maybe I’m afraid of actually finishing something. Maybe I don’t care enough to put my best into finishing something that someone else will hate and slash through with a big red pen. Very insightful post, Ms. Brandt. 🙂

  2. asherose
    Sep 26, 2008 @ 12:21:47

    Oh, there’s no specific person. Well, me, anyway, as mentioned above. But I’ve seen this in writer’s groups throughout my life, at the conventions (a LOT) and in the posts of other writers, too. It’s everywhere. I suspect that if you totaled up the people who called themselves writers and then the people who were regularly sending in submissions, the figure would be something like five percent.

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