What’s so great about failure?

Early yesterday morning, the fourth episode of the current podcast series dropped on AppleSpotify and all the other places you’d expect to find podcasts (do let me know what you’ve thought so far). Emily and I explore the literary worlds that have mapped our lives and techniques for building worlds that serve the story without overwhelming it.

But keeping an eye on the world not overwhelming the character isn’t just an issue for fiction. It’s one that can trip us up in every area, not just of writing, but of being a writer.

Q. What’s the difference between rejection and failure?

One of yesterday’s Wednesday Questions in the Writers’ Gym members’ chat was about rejection and tips for dealing with it (“of the writing kind, that is!”). Every Wednesday, members are invited to ask me something, either in the group chat or by private message – and that question can be anything about writing or life around it. One of the reasons I champion it is I’ve found it works as intrinsic permission. It gives a reason not to judge the question; not to find worthy/unworthy whatever might be on your mind (important writing training in itself). When you’re dared to write something and press send, those ‘what the hell’ muscles kick in and words take shape around a thought that might not otherwise have formed so clearly.

I’ll share my answer in a bit, but first here are the details I didn’t go into yesterday, because I didn’t to hijack the question.

A. What happens next.

It’s never been failure that’s hurt me in my writing life. It’s the assumption of failure in people I love.

No, actually, it’s not been the assumptions of others. It’s been my assumption that their beliefs, their assumptions matter. That they know me, as I am and as I can be, better than I do. That their thoughts are facts in the world where mine are only feelings. That others’ feelings are more significant, more important, more real, than mine.

Anyone thinking ‘who does s/he think s/he is?” is really wondering that about themselves.

In other words, it’s never been the rejection of a piece either by a potential publisher or a potential champion of my work – i.e. the external world – that’s hurt me. It was me, and my reaction, every time. My belief that feedback was instructions. And that, over the years, is what I got to a point where I could recognise what was going on and so promise myself “That’s not going to happen again.”

All of that is what I didn’t say. Here’s what I said:

Rejection is always, ALWAYS directing the writing (and the writer) towards a truer, better home.

We have two choices with rejection:

✨ make the disappointment the main event. We can fight the reality, dwell on what they may or may not be thinking when they made their decision or had their response; create our imagined version of that character, so get voluntarily stuck by changing our focus from ourselves to the person (sometimes/often faceless to us where it’s a publisher, journal, magazine or other platform) who did the rejecting, or we can stop focusing on that irrelevant, dark corner and grow in the direction of the sun.

sit with the feelings, allow ourselves to be sad and disappointed and all of the things, notice what we care about in the material, and look for homes that are looking for that. Instead of forcing the feelings into a box so we pour sweat into keeping the lid on, having listened to the feelings and discovered we can coexist with them, without them having to change or go away, we can put that sweat into researching the markets that what what every rejection has helped us distil: what we really have, and who it’s really for.

So, Writers’ Gym member who asked this excellent question: I know you said this was about ‘rejection of the writing kind’ but I’d suggest it’s the same as any other kind: sit with the feelings, use the feedback, move on and forward towards what works for who you and the contents of your head and heart are really for.

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