This is What Failure Will Teach You



by Meg Dowell


Have you ever tried something and failed miserably? It’s not fun. Sometimes you do whatever you can to avoid it, but it still hits you hard. And it hurts. A lot.

Everyone fails, or will fail, or is afraid of failing. Myself included.

To be completely honest (I will go more in-depth about this in this week’s newsletter, going out later today – subscribe so you don’t miss it!), there are a handful of projects I’m working on right now that I’m terrified to admit might not succeed. I am a completist. The idea of not being able to finish something scares me. But here’s the thing about failure: if you never fail, you’ll never really succeed, either.

Failure will teach you to be vulnerable

My sophomore year of college, I applied for a position on my school’s newspaper. I didn’t get the job. That  rejection probably wouldn’t have upset me so much if about five other failed attempts at broadening my extracurricular horizons hadn’t shown up in my inbox all in the same week. I remember feeling, to put it simply, like I was failing. I wanted to write, but no one wanted me to write for them. Yet I let stubbornness slowly morph into anger, because I refused to let myself be upset over something I felt was somehow my own fault.

The more I started pitching to magazines and pursuing other writing opportunities, the more I realized it’s okay to feel down about not being successful. So many themes in my stories revolve around this common idea of not getting what you want and not knowing how to feel about it. When you let yourself be more vulnerable, you can channel that otherwise negative energy into something productive. My first attempt at a sci-fi novel wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t dealt with failure and disappointment. I literally created a fictional character out of it. Sometimes, failing means another chance to write something deep and relatable, not just for you, but for other people to resonate with, too.

Failure will show you what it means to chase a dream

I come from that generation everyone assumes is entitled and doesn’t know how to do real work (you know the one). I don’t know of anyone my age who doesn’t seem to understand that if you want something, you have to put in the effort to earn it. Many writers try to break into the field, though, thinking they’ll be able to find success and income and experience easily. That’s why, personally, my past failures don’t bother me. They keep me in check. I have reminders that if I don’t do the work, I don’t get the outcome I hoped for. I hope everyone experiences failure … really. At least once.

There are about a thousand cliches about how success wouldn’t exist without failure. But even more than that, the relentless drive to beat the odds and make something happen might never show up unless you get knocked down because you failed. All writers, in their own way, have dreams. They want to write something and they want people to see it. Pursuing a desired outcome is hard. Even the fear of failing is enough to motivate many writers to keep trying, even when the process of sitting down and trying to create something worthwhile feels more like a nightmare.

Most importantly, your past failures will change the way you value your successes

When I look back at everything I’ve failed at – and yeah, it’s a lot, and it’s embarrassing – I really do appreciate my accomplishments in a way I don’t think I could if I didn’t have my past shortcomings. I’m proud of my successes because I know how it feels to fail. Embracing failure sounds a little silly, but trust me, it’s worth learning. Honestly, sometimes, I just shrug my shoulders and say, “Oops.” The only thing you should do in response to failure is teach yourself to learn from it.

The biggest lessons you will probably ever learn from failing is that success is so much sweeter after previously watching it slip away from you, likely more than once. My first freelance writing contract immediately made months of failed proposals worth it. If it were always easy, you would take it all for granted. If you succeeded at everything you did, you would stop appreciating it. Failure, or the possibility of it, keeps you working hard and aiming to improve. That is why it isn’t anything to be ashamed of. No regrets.

Nobody enjoys failure. But it’s important enough to the writing process that, honestly, you just have to get over it. You’ll be much happier and more productive once you get better at accepting your failures and let them drive you forward.





Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

17 thoughts on “This is What Failure Will Teach You

  1. Yesterday, I was celebrating because I won a contest and the NY editor wanted to read my manuscript and life was all roses and champagne.
    This morning, reaction set in. I told everyone about my success — now what if the editor hates my story? I’ll not only be rejected, I will be a public failure. (I haven’t even sent the manuscript out.I am proactively envisioning rejection.)
    I need to keep reminding myself that I did not send this story to the contest because I was expecting it to win. I sent it in because I was expecting feedback. Good or bad, I’ll still learn from this experience. So it’s not a failure even if the story gets rejected. Either way, I win.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good for you! That is a great attitude to have. If we all submitted stories just to get published, there would be a lot of disappointed people out there. Every time we put our writing out there we learn something. Either about our writing or about ourselves. Good luck with your story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Failure reminds us how great the successes really are.

    Sometimes what I think is failure is just a redirection of a goal or task. I may have come up against something that I wasn’t supposed to do. Sometimes the timing isn’t right or it isn’t what is really on my path to achieve anyway. Either now or maybe even never. Or, the failure leads me find a different path to accomplish a modified goal.


  3. I would rather think of “failures” as practice. You will never learn to ski, for example, without falling many times, or to excel at basketball without missing hundreds of baskets in the process. “Practice makes perfect.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reading this while sitting in a park with my son–about as far removed from writing something down. So I’m trying to keep tabs on this so I can come back to the idea of success through failure–for later.


  5. That’s the spirit!
    I’ve had a career of ‘not doing very well’ (us Brits think ‘failure’ is such an uncomfortable word; unless in the heroic context of course).
    Since I joined up with WP and reading many wise posts my writing is improving.
    My past attempts? I have crafted them into a source of humorous accounts of how not to do things.
    My past three books (good principal- screwball fantasy, but badly edited, not marketed & etc) now form part of the backdrop as lost & seditious volumes in my current (slightly more) serious project.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Mugglestones and Mayhem and commented:
    Failure…I don’t even like saying that word aloud. However, an old Music Director always approached failure by shouting, “What an Opportunity!” This article from Ryanlanz”s blog breaks down exactly what my teacher taught me. Read on!


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