Updated: Aug 14
As a wise man once said, "Sh*t is the best fertilizer, because it helps the flowers grow." That wise man was Karamo Brown, keystone member of the Fab 5 and absolute icon of the hit Netflix series Queer Eye.
Anyway, he has a point. If the sh*t you have on offer is of a high enough quality, people will call it manure and pay for whole bags of the stuff. It's stinky, disgusting gold! And I for one believe that while my shit does, in fact, stink, it's still worth something.
Let's get existential up in here for a second. What is failure? Is it not accomplishing the goal you set out to achieve? Is it missing the mark by a specific margin, or is it missing the margin completely? You know, there's that whole saying, "Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." Or, alternatively, the cold, dark vacuum of space. Really, it's a matter of perspective.
That perspective is what got Lance Armstrong - er, I mean Neil Armstrong, to his lunar destination in 1969. Ah, what a year. This, my friends, could be the '69 of your life, too, if you're willing to shift your position a bit. Wait, bad word choice. Your...worldview? That's still a pun, right?
Let's take a look at failure, almost-success, and how they make you a better writer.
Okay, So You F**ked Up. Now What?
This is where the magic happens, folks. No, really. Guess what that magic is called?
It's called... Sucking it the hell up, Sunshine. That's right - this is my brand of motivation, and it's equal parts humiliation, love, and well-meaning-but-kind-of-weird metaphors to help contextualize your thoughts. Kinky.
This is where you begin as an artist. I don't know about you, but my first attempts at writing were an absolute nightmare of angst, pretentious indignation, and a hormonally imbalanced bastardization of the english language. And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.
Would I willingly show anyone that writing without significant financial compensation and/or witness protection level rebranding of my entire self? Absolutely not. Still, this preposterously self-important drivel was the manure with which I fertilized the field of my young mind. My teenage wasteland became a lovely garden, in time, and it would not have done so had I not carefully pruned and cultivated my expectations when it came to being a writer.
Oh, I thought I was some hot sh*t, don't get me wrong. The thing was...no one else did. And uh, I could tell. Nothing says "wow, this poem sucks" than the absolute determination your parents have when they try to find something, anything, positive to say about it. It takes 'trying too hard' to new heights (and God, I love them for it). "Oh, honey, that's very, um...poignant?" Who uses the word poignant to describe the institutionally addled words of a high school teen? Someone who knows her feelings are an absolute minefield, that's who.
Look back at your very first attempts at the written word. Your first attempts at getting recognition for it, too, even if those memories are painful. The fact that you're on this blog means you didn't engage in a dramatic montage of burning your work, calling it quits, and running off into a (shudder) future in STEM. You obviously kept going! In fact, you probably kept going in spite of silent (and possibly vocal) discouragement from a variety of forces.
Somehow, some way, you sucked it up. Maybe it just sort of happened, without any conscious choice on your part, but you continued to be a writer. And that's the way success begins, as it so happens - it's a bunch of questionable, stubborn decisions to keep going. It's the core of what I like to call B.A.E. (Big Artist Energy).
Okay, So You F**ked Up Like, Several Times. Now What?
Largely, the same principle applies, but now you've got to up the ante a little bit. Bring out the big (motivational) guns. Clear the self-help section and man the YouTube 'life coach' channels, because believe it or not, you're still on your way to succeeding as a writer!
Okay, so I could cite the well known examples of various bigwigs who failed their way to success, but honestly I'm pretty tired of them. There's that certain billionaire author who put in 100 queries before getting her series published, finding spectacular success, and then spectacularly self-detonating with all of the blundering self-importance of a rich TERF - oops, off topic. There's always Oprah, anyway. Imagine being the person who gave up on Oprah. Whew. Tragic.
More importantly, Oprah didn't give up on herself. No, she balanced grace and willpower with what I can only imagine was a borderline manic sense of personal vision. As Josh from Drake & Josh so wisely and wistfully said, "oh, Oprah..." Wise words, Josh, wise words.
Anyway, my point is that repeated failure is actually a sign you're progressing. Writing is a subjective act, and so failure within writing is subjective, too. The only real way to fail is to give up, and to give up permanently, at that. So you'd have to continuously and actively fail for the rest of your life to make it real, and that in and of itself would be quite a feat. Every time you pick up a pen or type on your keyboard, you're un-failing.
So yeah, maybe you're just orbiting that barren, rocky moon, but unless you bust open your own oxygen tank and call it quits on the whole life thing, you still haven't failed the mission. You're out among those stars, right? So give it another go and pick up that cheap nylon flag, because you've still gotta bend over and tell the USSR to kiss your all-American a**.
Well, you know what I mean.
Okay, So You Kind Of Succeeded, But Your Absolute Terror Of Failure Is Still There...
My solution, personally, was thousands of dollars of therapy.
For the more frugal among us, I think the solution is to simply allow the existential crisis to come on in and roost for a bit, sans therapy. Same result, honestly. Now I know this might not be very appealing because, well, existential crises suck, but think about it. What kind of self-respecting, brooding mess of a famous author hasn't had an existential crisis?
Wallowing in the fickle whims of success is a rite of passage, guys. People write prose about it. It's a thing. For a more earthy metaphor, I'll give you a clever anecdote from my own recent life! Free of charge! The other day, my dad was fertilizing his gentle field of baby yard-grass when, out from the bag of compost slid a rather large and disgruntled snake (who I have, for narrative purposes, named Mathilda).
Now, was my father then nervous about opening up further bags of high-quality leaf compost? Despite the proven and successful track record it had of bringing our baby grass to vibrant, suburban movie-lawn-level success? Yeah, I'd say he was. HOWEVER, he persisted, and now our septic tank-shaped patch of dirt looks like, a million times better. No, my inspiring father was not one to give in - not for Mathilda, and not for anyone, I dare say.
Success is rife with Mathildas, slithery surprises hidden within the accolades and milestones of life. This is a certainty. You, however, are even more of a certainty! Sort of. As long as you're alive and mentally functional, you've still got it in you to write, to create, and to act. Even a thousand serpentine interlopers won't be able to dull the sense of accomplishment you'll experience if you persist, because the only person who actually has the ability to dull that feeling is you.
All of this is an optimistic way of saying that, yeah, even when you succeed, you're still going to...well, fail. It's not really a clear delineation. Why do you think artists are all so anxious and freaky? That's the frazzled, disoriented mark of success, baby. And eventually you reach that tobacco-pipe-smoking, velvet-chair-and-cashmere-robe-touting realm of the ones who have inhaled deeply of the manure of life and accepted it precisely as it is, with pleasure. Oh, yeah. That's some quality B.A.E.
Time for a clever and witty end paragraph! Just kidding, have some of those delicious fail-to-success clichés I mentioned earlier:
Katy Perry, coincidentally (or not?) my first celebrity crush, dropped out of high school and literally watched her record label go out of business before she found any kind of success in the music industry.
Akio Morita, aka the founder of Sony, started out by making a rice cooker that successfully burned every grain of rice that came near it. Then he was unemployed and sorrowfully made scooters in his garage for a few years (I'm imagining some really sad techno music playing for ambiance, here) before finally trying again and becoming an iconic tech mogul.
Katherine Hepburn was given the flattering nickname of "box office poison" thanks to her abysmal record at said establishment. She fought hard to eventually take control of her career and became a beloved (and wealthy) household name.
Cue some stereotypically inspirational quotes!
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure.” – Abraham Lincoln
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated." – Maya Angelou
“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” – Brené Brown
What are some of your favorite failures? Let me know in the comments section! Until next time, Sunshine.