Embrace Failure

Today, I’m sending good vibes and support to the US Women’s Soccer Team, especially my favorite players, Abby and Hope.

Here’s Abby:

It has to burn to get THAT CLOSE…and not bring home the championship. (I’m also a NY Jets fan, so frankly, I feel that pain all the time.) But seriously, when you put EVERYTHING out there—when you risk it all—when you keep working and pushing yourself through injury…through years, it’s got to end in success. Right?

Well, that isn’t how it works in soccer or in writing. We don’t always get to win. But here’s the thing, if we don’t risk everything—if we don’t risk failure—we never even get close.

If you look up “quotes about failure,” here’s a sample of what you will find:

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”

Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal.”

What about quotes about success? Well, after a big pop up a whole bunch of self-help books, staples, and a girl looking for love, here is what I found:

“The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”

“Most successful men have not achieved their distinction by having some new talent or opportunity presented to them. They have developed the opportunity that was at hand.”

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that?s where you will find success.”

I’ve been thinking about this last one for a while now. Double your rate of failure. Hey—I think I’m doing a good job.

Let’s look at it from different POV’s:

When you examine the protagonists of most books, failure is a fact of life. If a character wants something, no doubt, the worst possible thing will happen. But make it too easy for him, and the story falls flat. In the best books, the protagonist will have to work hard…and struggle…and probably fail a whole bunch more times before getting to the top of the mountain: ie: winning. That’s why we love them. They fail. THEN THEY GROW. Then they triumph. Do you care less or more about characters that “rise from the ashes?” Don’t you love characters who must overcome failure?

But when it comes to real life…and especially writing…why do so many people think that failure is something to fear and avoid?

I think Steven Pressfield says it best. In The War of Art, he pinpoints the biggest obstacle to success there is.


What is that?

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

For many, Resistance embodies a fear of failure.

But with discipline, you can embrace failure. You can see that failure—and the willingness to fail—are the most important parts of the writing process.

I obviously agree. And actually, the stakes are pretty low. What is revision if not the recognition that you have failed?

In revision, we don’t just shuffle words. We re-imagine. We look at scenes from new angles. We write them badly—over and over again—in order to eventually

Some people might find this discouraging. That’s resistance, too. Some people make excuses. More resistance. If you think you have to get it done fast or right the very first time, you are opening the door to resistance.


EMBRACE FAILURE! because in a way, it gets you off the hook. You don’t have to write the perfect book today…you just have to write something bad enough to fix later.

When I fail, I discover!!!!! (I would never have known that Parker Llewellyn was a girl, if she hadn’t been a boy first.)

Last week, in my writers.com Whole Novel class, I asked the writers to list some books that had been inspirational to their process. On writer shared some quotes from a book called The Social Animal.

“The latest research suggests a prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of how fantastic success is achieved. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not divine spark. Instead, what really matters is the ability to get better and better gradually over time. As K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University has demonstrated, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously honing their craft. As Ericsson has noted, top performers devote five times more hours to become great than the average performers devote to become competent.”

“John Hayes of Carnegie Mellon studied five hundred masterworks of classical music. Only three of them were published within the first ten years of the composer’s career. For all the rest, it took a decade of solid, steady work before they could create something magnificent.”

I LOVE these quotes. They debunk the myth that talent must be innate. That genius is given and cannot be developed and nurtured. And that means, if I work hard enough, I can do it, too. It’s earned. The craft requires practice. Not just natural gifts.
We just have to be willing to endure failure. Rejections. Bad reviews…you name it. We get it. But we also all get over it. We make our stacks of NO. We laugh at the reviews. We write more books.

Success comes from failure.

If you don’t take chances, you will never succeed.

If you don’t risk falling down, you will never run faster.

When you fall down, you always learn something.

Last…let’s think not as writers, but as parents. Are we protecting our kids from the very thing that will help them succeed?

Whose kids play sports where “everyone is a winner?” They play games where no one keeps score. We do this to develop confidence and self esteem…but does it work?

Does it make our kids more curious? More willing to combat resistance? Or does it make them rely on success for self esteem? How and when do we teach them to fail?????
Not that long ago, I was subbing in the local school. An exam was forthcoming. I asked the students if they had questions. (It was an English class, and I had read the book.)
There was only one question: what do I have to study?

That is not risk taking.

That is not risking failure.

And thus, that does not breed success.

Letting children face the consequences of their choices shouldn’t begin in high school. It needs to start much earlier. When my kids were young, I often had to remind myself not to fix all their problems….right away.

It hurt a lot, but I felt they had to learn cause and effect through success and failure as part of a necessary maturing process. Intervening can interrupt that process. Kids can’t become responsible adults without failing sometimes.

And neither can we. So the mantra of today, for Abby and Hope,

Here’s Hope! (LOVE YOU!!)

…who I do want VERY BADLY to get gold medals and I hope they know how amazing they are and how proud we are of them…

is fail.

Try something you think maybe you can’t do. (Just nothing dangerous.) Embrace failure. Then get ready to succeed.

Happy Writing and Reading!

Sarah Aronson’s Beyond Lucky, is about heroes, soccer, a superstitious goalie, and a girl who makes the team. She hopes Abby and Hope will someday find her book and know how much their play inspired her writing.

Sarah Aronson