The Dark Side of Being a Writer

Mad RabbitsIt’s the hidden underside of writing that most writers don’t talk about. None of us relish thinking about it. And all of us wish we never had to deal with it at all. But it’s the shadowy truth that every working writer comes up against at some point in his or her career.

To write something truly great, you have to write a lot of things that suck first.

This might be the hardest part of being a writer. Because we don’t just write things that suck during our first six months of writing. We usually write them for the first few years of writing. And even after decades of writing, and many published works, even the most successful writers still occasionally write something that just doesn’t pan out.

Writing stories that fail is a part of writing that no writer can avoid.

Sometimes it’s a short story that goes nowhere and fizzles out in a sad little heap of dead characters. Sometimes it’s a novel that makes it to completion but ends up passing the rest of its days buried in a box in the attic. Many times it’s an honestly brilliant idea that loses its fire before it even makes it down onto the page.

These failed and buried, dead-end, fizzled-out attempts are all part of the package every writer signs up for when they commit to following the writer’s path. It’s not pretty. And it’s always discouraging when we realize that the story we’re working with just isn’t going to work.

Experienced writers know not to take failure personally.

Failed writing attempts have nothing to do with your talent or your potential as a writer. It’s just something that happens along the way, and it happens to everyone. And it doesn’t even just happen to writers. Anyone who has ever wanted to be really great at something has gone through their fair share of disappointments and failed attempts. Great surgeons have lost patients. Great inventors have accidentally blown up stuff.

To be truly great, you must fail doing the thing you love again and again.

What separates the great writers from the rest is that great writers keep trying. They learn what they can from the failed attempt and move on. They keep moving forward, even if the movement is gut-wrenchingly slow and painful.

Your failed attempts at writing are incredibly helpful to your growth as a writer. What’s not helpful is misreading the message of a failed attempt and using it as evidence for why you should give up altogether. To get anywhere, we have to fail first.

So if you’re showing up and actually doing the writing on a regular basis but you still feel like you’re “failing” it’s time to reevaluate your definitions. It’s not about results. It’s about process.

It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

It’s time to stop and look around at your own journey. Appreciate where you are and be grateful for it. Your failed attempts are evidence of how committed you are to the road.

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