Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I once spent 14 months writing over 600 pages. I thought I was done. I thought I had a novel, thought I could turn it in, thought I could work on the next thing. Then I sat down & read it. I cried. For 45 minutes. And it wasn’t pretty crying either. It was ugly, sucking-sob, snot-nosed, can’t-barely-talk crying. Why? Because it was terrible. Awful. Really, it was. A failure, for sure.
I was out of town at the time & called my husband. The conversation went something like this:
“It’s [sob] awful. [sob] Really, really [sob] awful.”
“Calm down. It’s not that bad.”
“Yes [sucking air], it is [blowing nose].”
“Take a breath.”
“Yes, you can. Take a breath & step back.”
“It’s bad [smaller sob]. I’m not kidding. [tiny suck of air] It is.”
“Take a couple days off, okay? You take a couple days off & don’t look at it. Go do something else to distract yourself & don’t think about it. Then you look at it fresh & see how you can fix it.”
It would’ve been an epic failure if I didn’t learn something from it. First, I learned that it’s always awesome to have somebody level-headed & practical to help you when you think you’re in a crisis ~ props to my husband ~ so now, when something goes wrong, I search out those kind of people for advice. Second, I learned that stepping back & calming down is the only way to approach something that’s not an emergency but seems like a disaster & you’re an emotional wreck. Third, I learned that after a 2-day break, I could look more objectively at the problem and so I could actually see solutions.
Be redefining failure, I also learned a few things from that experience:
- Don’t write for somebody else, write for myself.
- Don’t pick a topic I’m not passionate about.
- Don’t force traits on my characters. Let them be who they are.
- Don’t try to force the story along because I’m in a hurry & need to get done.
- Don’t try to make someone else happy at the expense of myself.
- And the biggest one: Don’t ignore my gut, which was telling me this wasn’t the right story to pursue.
I can’t ever get back the 14 months or the time away from my family or the sleep I missed out on while I was working on that book. But I did manage to salvage 60 pages, which I turned into a novel that I am extremely proud of. And now, when little warning flares go off in my head or my gut ~don’t do this or stay away from that ~ I listen to them.
How about you? What have you learned from what seemed like a failure? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.