Motivation · Productivity

Conquering The Fear Of Failure

At my core, I am a perfectionist, so failing scares the crap out of me.  I used to fall apart when I thought I had failed at things.

This month I saw Captain Marvel.   I was brimming with both excitement and fear, because it’s no secret to people that know me that I love the character and I also adore Kelly Sue DeConnick, the writer who helped to breathe new life into Carol Danvers a few years ago.  I’ll avoid spoilers, but in the trailer and in the comic, there are discussions and visuals about falling down and getting back up. Failure is falling down, but you can make the choice to get back up.  

Failure is a tool that teaches us more about ourselves, about what we need to learn and how we need to grow.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from the Captain Marvel comics that outlines the concept very well:

“Have you ever seen a little girl run so fast she falls down? There’s an instant, a fraction of a second before the world catches hold of her again… A moment when she’s outrun every doubt and fear she’s ever had about herself and she flies. In that one moment, every little girl flies. I need to find that again. Like taking a car out into the desert to see how fast it can go, I need to find the edge of me… And maybe, if I fly far enough, I’ll be able to turn around and look at the world… And see where I belong.”

– Captain Marvel Vol 8 Issue 1 – Kelly Sue DeConnick

If we don’t fail, we don’t grow.  Though we can definitely learn from a variety of sources, I think it tends to be the times we make mistakes or fail that we learn the most solid lessons.  

We also learn from feedback on our mistakes or failures. I am a big fan of constructive criticism because it can help you gain skills and knowledge you did not have before.  It’s like sharpening a knife. If you put a knife against a soft surface it’s not going to get any sharper. It has to be put against a rough surface over and over for the blade to get sharp again.  

So how do you conquer the fear of failure?

I am by no means perfect at this, but these are the things that have helped me:

  • Fake it till you make it.  If you want to be a writer, write and tell people you are a writer.
  • Remind yourself that failure is a part of the learning process.  
  • Give yourself time to feel the fear, then move on and push through.

And lastly, don’t forget to enjoy those moments of freefall, when you’re soaring for just a second.  The world will get hold of you again, but you’ll never know what you can accomplish until you push your limits.

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Writing

Fail Better: Part 2

The first post I wrote about this subject was mostly about what writers hear as they journey through their path to becoming published.  This post will be about how you can actually fail upward.  I’m not sure we can actually call it a failure, as long as you learn something.

Over the past two years I’ve sent out short stories, worked on novels, sent out comic scripts, all in hopes of getting my work published.  A few times those things have worked out beautifully, but more often than not I’ve either gotten “This wasn’t quite what we were looking for.” or no response at all.  But most of the time?  I learned something about submitting, something about writing, or just something about myself in the process.

Don’t get me wrong.  I did not receive those rejects with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.  Rejection always hurts, but if I don’t keep trying and working at it, I’ll never reach my goals.

Speaking of goals, my dear friend Yen wrote an really great post about goals and resolutions over on Virtuosity11.11.  She specifically talks about how to break goals down so that they are easier to accomplish and she’s actually the person who helped me figure out how to make some of my resolutions measurable.

Once you have a goal in mind, failure doesn’t quite sting as strongly, because you can remind yourself that everything you do is in service of that goal.  Goals help you plan for the future and figure out steps toward what you want.

For example, one of my goals this year is to submit at least two short stories for publication each month.  I’ve had this goal in the past, but now, I approach goals on a yearly, monthly, weekly basis.  I look at my month, at my deadlines and figure out when I need the first drafts, second drafts and final versions done of my stories.

Now, even after all this work and all the revisions, there’s still a rather good chance I won’t get every story published.  The only way to get better at writing, is to continue to do it.  So even if each story does not work out, I’m still practicing my craft, studying more about the art I love so dearly.  There’s something to be said for sticking with it, even when it seems like nothing is going right.

None of the authors, screen writers or comic writers got where they are today because they took rejection to heart and never wrote again.

So fail.  Fail a lot.  But always try again.

 

 

Writing

Fail Better: Improving your writing and facing your fears

When I tell people that I’m working towards a professional career as a writer, I often get this sort of response from other people who want to be a writer/want to write a book:

“Dude!  That’s what I want to do!  How are you doing that?!”

Or

“That’s my dream, but I don’t have the time.”

Or

“Oh, I’m a writer too, but my stuff is just too much/too good/too innovative for the industry.

I’ve heard these kinds of comments from people I’ve met at writing groups, writing communities and other spaces that involve creative minds.

When I ask about what they are writing or what they are working on they seem to share it with me with 1 of 3 attitudes:

1. They either are too worried or too self critical to have written much and therefore they’ve self-sabotaged to the point they never finish or never start

2. They share a completed story/script and they aren’t open to any constructive criticism.  They deem the document perfect as is and want no feedback.

3. They have several excuses why they don’t have time to write.

I think all of these attitudes have one thing in common.  A fear of failure.

One person never finishes because they fear once they finish, someone might read it and realize they’ve failed.  The second isn’t open to criticism because that is someone saying they’ve failed.  The third isn’t even going to give themselves any opportunity to fail.

Just like anything else, if you want to get better at writing, there is some failure involved.  The trick?  Is to fail better.  

What does fail better mean?  

It means you seek outside feedback and you work to improve your craft.  It means practicing telling your inner editor to hush as you write.  NaNoWriMo is a great way to get some practice in.  You’ve got 1,667 words to write every day during Nano, you don’t have time to argue with your inner editor, you have a story to write.

If you find that you really can’t get your inner editor to shut up, there are services like Ilys.com, which doesn’t allow you to see what you’re typing.  It basically prevents your inner editor from doing anything until you’ve reached a certain word count.  They have a free trail period, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you can’t get your inner editor to shut up.

Feedback and Constructive Criticism are important part of failing better

Share your writing with groups that you trust and listen carefully to their feedback.  Change the things they suggest if you feel like it works for you story, and watch for patterns of things you might often make errors on.  On of my go to reviewers is my good friend and in the first several pieces I shared with her, she commented on my description and the fact that some of my characters lacked depth in their perspective.

Her input helped me see areas that I really needed to work on.  I may have failed, but I had the chance to fix my draft work before I submitted it.  Feedback can sting, but it’s better to clean up the work and improve it, then to never get better, isn’t it?

Give feedback, get feedback

Reading and reviewing the writing of others will also help you improve your work.  You might find things in their work you want to do in your own work or things you want to avoid.

I once had a fellow writer who was really excited to share his work with me.  He sent me a piece filled with spelling errors and when I tried to give him feedback about it, he kept telling me he didn’t care about the errors, he wanted to know what I “really thought.”  After further conversation about his work, it became fairly clear to me that he didn’t really want feedback, he wanted praise.  He believed his work was already on par with the professional work out there, and that despite that, people in the industry were actively ignoring him.

If someone doesn’t want feedback, you can’t help them improve.  You can only use it as an opportunity to improve your own writing.

The errors were so distracting to me, I had a difficult time getting through the piece of writing, and that was my main feedback.  I wanted to be excited about his work, but from that point on I did not want to read pieces for him, because I knew my feedback would not help him.

I did learn that I needed to be careful about my spelling.  If I didn’t want to read a piece riddled with errors, I doubt an editor is going to want to.

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes by Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried.

Ever failed.

No matter.

Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better.”

Now go out there and fail better!