Failure as a Writing Tool

Around this time every year, I’m either really satisfied with myself or angry with myself. It’s not because it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving and I’ve gorged myself on too much food. And no, it’s not the fact that I may have spent too much on Black Friday deals.  

It’s because it’s the final days of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. And by this stage of the game, I either know that I’ll compete the challenge or fail. For those that don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge that challenges people to write 52,000 words in the month of November. 

As I sit here, in my office on Black Friday, I have a feeling that I will not be completing that challenge. I stalled out about a week ago and only started to recover yesterday. I didn’t do anything on Thanksgiving except drink coffee and write words. However, I have to admit, those days of not regularly writing sealed the doom for me. In order for me to actually succeed, I’d have to write at least 5,000 words each day until Nov. 30. If I didn’t have a normal job, that would be just barely feasible. 

So, I must accept defeat and admit that I failed the NaNoWriMo challenge. 

There’s nothing wrong with admitting when you’ve been beaten. Failure is just another lesson taught to us by life. There is a plethora of sayings that I could use to accent my point. 

• “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison 

• “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” – Truman Capote 

• “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” – Theodore Roosevelt 

• “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” -Robert F. Kennedy 

• “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

All of those are really great and inspiring, but it’s not the saying that I will be using to drive home my point. The wisdom I’d like to draw upon actually comes from a little, green, puppet. 

“The greatest teacher, failure is,” spoken by Jedi Grandmaster Yoda from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. 

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I may have already used this quote in a previous column, but I don’t care. I love it. The funny thing is, I don’t like that installment of the new trilogy, but I like what Yoda tells Luke. 

If you look at the history of Luke Skywalker, the dude just can’t get a break. His uncle and aunt get incinerated, his mentor is slain by Darth Vader, the girl he likes turns out to be his twin sister, Darth Vader turns out to be his dad, his hand is sliced off in a domestic disturbance in the Force, and after he finally gets to know his father, dear old dad dies. Luke’s got it rough. And just when you think everything’s fine and Luke’s got everything on lock (as the kids say), it turns out that his nephew destroys everything he’s built over the last 15 years and turns to the dark side. Luke also can’t successfully be a hermit either. 

All of those failures led Luke to depression and seclusion. He let his guilt and fear of future failure rule over him. And at his lowest point, he decided to end it all. That’s when Yoda told him that failure wasn’t something to fear. Failure is the fire that humans are forged in. If we aren’t strong enough, we crack and break. If we succeed, we come out of the forge stronger. Ultimately, that’s what Luke learns and confronts his nephew. In the next film, as a Force ghost, he tells Rey that “confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.” 

Okay, so I’m not sure how this column became an attempt to redeem Rian Johnson’s interpretation of Luke Skywalker, but what I’m trying to illustrate is that when failure knocks us on our butts, we can’t just stay on the ground. We have to get back up and keep moving forward. 

As a writer, rejection letters will be common. One-star reviews may pop up on your books every once in a while. The feedback you receive might be negative. And trust me when I say this, if you make a mistake, you’ll find out about it.  

So what if I failed NaNoWriMo. At least that’s 30,000 words that I was able to write in November. The moral of the story, if there is one this week, is to keep calm and write on. If you’re wanting to make it in the literary world, you’re going to have to take success in one hand and failure in the other. 



Categories: Mastering the Craft

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Oh how true that is, though not only in the literary world. In any area of life, if you want to make it, you’ll have to take success in one hand and failure in the other!

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