How To Be A Success By Failing

Most writers, even the famous ones, have suffered, at some point in their careers, the pneumonia of despair. Cheeky little thoughts play on repeat. I’m no good. I can’t write. Nobody will read or like it. But take heart. I’ve learnt that Failing is Good! Failing is Necessary!

Anne Enright, a Man Booker Prize winner, says

“Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people. Even when I am pointed the right way and productive and finally published, I am not satisfied by the results. This is not an affectation, failure is what writers do.”

I’m pitching my thriller to an agent at the end of this week, and attending a Writers’ Conference in a month with another five pitches scheduled then. It’s a nerve wracking and peculiar experience. On the one hand I’m preparing for success and on the other I’m preparing for failure. The publishing industry is littered with tales of rejection.

Take Jerzy Kosinski. To prove how difficult it is for new writers to get picked out of the ‘slush pile’ he used a pen name to submit his bestseller Steps to 13 literary agents and 14 publishers. All of them rejected it, including Random House, the original publisher.


  • Stephenie Meyer with Twilight had 14 rejections but then sold 17 million copies
  • Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections for Gone With The Wind and has since sold 30 million copies
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett. She received 60 rejections, persevered and has now sold over 5 million copies

Sometimes, just sometimes, I do wonder why I am putting myself through this. It’s more complicated than ‘I was born to write,’ or that, having exhausted all avenues of employment, I can’t do anything else. I’ve spent a small fortune on the craft of writing books. I’ve studied and read, and mostly I write. Then edit. Then edit some more. I strengthen the character arc, deepen the emotional journey, raise the tension. Then edit. And edit some more.

The thing that keeps driving me forward is that I want to get better.

Improving also means procrastination research. Which is how I came across the work of Carole Dweck, a renowned psychologist. It all makes sense now. There are two types of people. Ones that have a fixed mindset, and ones with a growth mindset.

The former are people who have been praised for their talents. They worry about trying out new things for fear of ruining their reputation for brilliance. They stay in their comfort zone and don’t like to be challenged. The other group, praised for effort and strategies, persistence and resilience, believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

This resonated so much with me. I’m a dog with a bone. I just won’t give up. Even when I think I have, I keep returning to the stories, the characters. The issues. They’re too important not to give them a creative outlet. To breathe life into them. And the moments when I do have a wobble, when those pesky little thoughts pop into my head about how the odds are stacked against a new author (please don’t call me an ‘aspiring writer,’ you either write or you don’t), I think of Thomas Edison’s quote:

Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

I am learning and getting better in the craft of writing every day. Even if that is through failing. Of course I’d be delighted if an agent loved my novels and wanted to represent me but I’m happy to be rejected too if that means I’ve gained some experience. The million dollar question is how close to success am I?

I’m not sure but what I do know is that I’m progressing and improving all the time.

Over to you – which mindset are you in at the moment?


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