“Never give up! Never, never, never, never give up. Never!”
– Winston Churchill
Note. That above heading should be sung to the tune of Rick Astley’s 1987 “hit.” I expect funny voices to be adopted and some serious shapes to be thrown.
Writing is fickle. It can make you feel both absolutely ecstatic and horrendously shit in equal measure. A bit like a McDonald’s happy meal or that fifth or sixth gin and tonic. Some days things can go really well – I’ll be typing away, completely enjoying the process and excited to see where things are going next – and then other days I can come away feeling like I can barely string a sentence together and my brain is made from play-dough.
I don’t know about you lovely lot, but I find that there’s no middle ground with me when it comes to writing. I can’t scribble away for hours when I think something is “only OK”. I sit and sulk and huff in front of a screen like it’s some magical rain-dance-type-affair that will suddenly bring me some inspiration. I am either writing – and loving it – or staring at a blank screen with nothing but tumbleweed rattling around in my skull.
I think one of my biggest problems is thinking too much about what happens afterwards. What happens to all the time and energy you’ve put into finishing the damn thing? The next step comes like a slap in the face. You can no longer hide behind the guise of writing a novel, the bloody thing is written. Finished. Time to get pedalling those wares. Or at least let someone else read it. Cue massive freak out and high anxiety levels.
So let’s talk for a moment about this Fear of Failure (FOF)? Is it irrational? No, I don’t think so. It’s different from writer’s block – this is about rejection. It’s that inner voice that stops us from doing stuff (and sometimes this voice is very welcome) that might bring failure to the yard. When the thing is fully realised – the novel/story is drafted, printed, bound, whatever, and hidden in your knicker drawer – there are no more excuses.
Easier said than done, right?
Well, right. Mostly. The best bit of advice I have ever been given is to give yourself an ultimatum. Its now or never. Either you finish it/send it/submit it or you don’t. I think that’s pretty sound advice to carry with us through every aspect of life. You want to give up that job? Its now or never. You want to run away and see the world? Its now or never.
And we have to remember that we’re not alone with our FOF. Its a very real anxiety that all writers face.
So what if it does happen? So what if we are knocked back? It doesn’t mean that we can’t do it. It just means we might need to try a little harder, or look somewhere different, try someone else.
There are lots of famous people who have experienced rejection in their careers, but insist it made them more determined to succeed.
Here’s some advice from a few well-known peeps:
J.K Rowling – “Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective. Take care of your writing life, so it takes care of you!”
Neil Gaiman – “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
David Mitchell – “I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.”
Sylvia Plath – “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
See! It happens to even the best writers!
One way I overcame my FOF was to begin writing a blog. It’s not a big step – I’m not firing off short stories or novels to publishers/agents/competitions – I’d have to finish something first – but its my own little bit of risk-taking. I am doing something different and sending it off into the ether.
So how do you guys cope with the dreaded FOF? Is it something you experience? Do you have any handy tips for banishing such nasty thoughts from your head?