On failure, discipline, and other life lessons from writing

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has helped me in my life outside of writing. It’s not just that writing and effective communication skills are valuable assets (which they are!), but that the trials and tribulations of building a writing career make us stronger, if only we’re willing to learn from them. I think two of the biggest things I’ve learned from my writing career so far are the ability to learn from failure and the importance of discipline, which is a combination of goal-setting, dedication, and follow-through.

Failure:

Whether it’s a rejection, a bad review, or simply acknowledging that a story or a scene isn’t working, we can turn failure into a means to achieve our goals. We can fight failure or blame it on others. We can say the market isn’t ready. We can say family constraints got in the way of our writing. Those things might be true. But the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the market, not the situation. When we do this, failure can become a learning experience. When we were kids, we fell when learning how to walk, and yet we learned anyway. Failure is harder for grownups, but still valuable.

I’m one of those stubborn optimists in life who’s always insisting that you have to risk failure to succeed. The most successful people in life are those who are willing to take professional risks. Now, they have to be calculated risks. You can’t just jump off a proverbial cliff to test if you can fly. You have to do research, learn the right skills, and put those skills to work. But ultimately, we will risk rejection, bad reviews, and even snarky comments, to put our writing to the test. It’s the only way to succeed. And then, when we fail, we reassess and try again, armed with the knowledge we’ve gained.

Discipline:

So many of us “creative types” are thinkers, and it’s easy to get stuck in our heads brainstorming and never put our fingers to the keyboard. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to the birds and admire the trees, and while it might be a vital part of my life or my writing process, it’s not going to get the book done. Unless you’re a published writer with an agent and editor and tight deadlines, no one is leaning over you telling you to get this done. Indie writers have their fellow writers, crit partners, and readers to hold them to deadlines. Especially in the beginning, when you’re setting your own deadlines, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get there when I get there.” No two writers will have the same process.

You can reach out to other writers on Twitter (hashtags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writegoal, #MyWANA, or #1k1hr) or blogs (A Round of Words in 80 Days, http://aroundofwordsin80days, or #ROW80) or participate in NaNoWriMo. Or you can build your own goals and stick to them. You have to find the process that works for you (even if it’s trial and error, and there’s failure involved along the way) and stick to it. If great ideas made great writers, there would be a lot more great books in the world. But the great idea has to be in the hands of someone dedicated enough to follow the story and polish it until the words sing.

We have to be willing to just breathe through the failures, which are a necessary part of success. In investing, the greater the potential yields of an investment, the higher the risk. And writing is a risky business. You have to be willing to weather the storms. And discipline, even if we have days where we totally blow our writing quota, helps us hone our craft and accomplish our goals. And both require us to just breathe through the process. As I continue my journey, I know there are plenty more lessons in store.

What life lesson has writing taught you?

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