Give Yourself Permission to Fail
There are a lot of famous sayings and quotes about success and failure, but my favorite is one that I find myself repeating to my own kids fairly often. I don’t know the exact wording or who said it first, but I usually phrase it as “you only truly fail by not trying at all.”
I don’t know if it’s a product of how competitive a society we all live in these days, but a lot of us (not just kids) have a fear of failure that is often more damaging than failure itself. I doubt there is much success that isn’t built upon a sea of past failures, because there is very little in life that we are born knowing how to do. Humans learn through trial and error, and so it should be expected that we aren’t going to get something exactly right the first (or even second, or third…) time we try it. But the only way we can assure ourselves that we will never succeed is when we let the fear of failure stop us from even trying something in the first place (or giving up too soon). So don’t fall into that trap!
It’s pretty often that I’ll see new authors attempt a postmortem of a new release less than a week after publishing, especially when the book isn’t an immediate bestseller. They’ll say something like “I thought I did everything right and wrote a great story, but no one is buying it.” They won’t realize that they’ve missed the mark with their cover or blurb, or maybe they’re targeting the wrong audience. And they’ll be discouraged from ever trying again.
And worse, some would-be authors are so paralyzed by the need for perfection that they immediately talk themselves out of writing anything at all, or they get stuck in a cycle of never-ending research without ever committing anything to a page.
But that’s okay. They’re not alone. Everyone’s first attempt at any creative endeavor sucks. And probably the second and third attempts too. First steps are scary. They’re clumsy. They’re messy. It doesn’t matter if you’re baking biscuits or painting a rosebush or writing a novella. Anyone who has arrived at the finish line of artistic mastery has a pile of total abominations that embarrass the heck out of them in the rear-view. You wear them like a badge of pride, because just like every jog around the block trains your body to be better, those cringe-worthy wobbly first steps have trained your creative mind to be better. The creative act is the important thing. Quality comes later.
That’s not to say that quality isn’t worth consideration though. We should still try to create the best product we can since the whole name of the game is repeat readers. We should just try to keep in mind the cliché about the great being the enemy of the good. Don’t torture yourself or your books by trying to force perfection since it’ll ultimately be self-defeating.
So give yourself permission to suck.
Not only that, embrace the suck. Laugh at it. Make faces at it, because it’s definitely making faces at you. Understand that it’s just part of the process, and the vast, vast majority of everyone who eventually becomes a master at their craft had a humble beginning just like you. Have fun with the creation without worrying about whether what you’re doing stinks. Just get words down on paper. They don’t have to be good, they just have to be. Even if it’s ten words, it’s another step in the right direction and another victory over the thing in your mind that wants to keep you from doing anything constructive.
Can’t write? No problem. Take a shower. Watch recipe videos on YouTube and then make one. Take a walk. Do anything that isn’t lying in bed, even if bed comes after. Next time, try for two things before bed, and make one of them writing ten words. There are more than ten words in this sentence all by itself. Anything and everything that you do that isn’t bed is a victory you should be proud of.
You’ll have good days and some bad ones. Some days you’ll be able to do a hundred things before bed. Some days you’ll do ten. Some days just one. And that’s all okay. Eventually you’ll be a member of an exclusive club—people who have actually created something as opposed to talking about creating something. And it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not—it just matters that it is. It’ll be proof of your victory over your mind, and you can look at it the next time you feel like you can’t accomplish the same thing again.
I struggle quite a bit with ADHD, and didn’t get my official diagnosis until I was well into my self-publishing journey that started in 2014. When I started, I made all of the mistakes that it’s possible to make: I chose poorly when targeting my first stories to an audience. I ignored advice from people who were more experienced than myself. I agonized over every published book at the expense of writing new ones. I researched and over-researched. It was so difficult to focus on improving any one aspect of my business when I felt like everything desperately needed improvement. It can be overwhelming. Honestly, it never really stops being overwhelming and stressful, even when you have more successes than stumbles. And there’s always that voice at the back of my head that says “Are you sure you want to do it that way?”
Yeah, annoying voice. I do.
Which is a long way to say that the most important takeaway from this is to learn from the mistakes you make. Don’t be afraid of them. Cozy up to ‘em and become friends. The first one and the second one too. And so on. They don’t define your potential as a person or your abilities as an author. Just keep in mind that even after you’re a master, you can and will still totally make things that suck. And that’s okay too.