Overcoming failure

There’s one thing that can be guaranteed when starting out life as a writer — that you will fail.

I don’t say this to put people off the idea, but to encourage you. Because, behind every novel on your shelf, is the story of a writer who has failed at some point in the past. The trick is to keep going.

The writer is like the violin virtuoso who walks onto stage at the Royal Albert Hall and gives a solo performance. They did not walk in off the street, pick up a bow and a Stradivarius and start playing the Liszt’s Sonata in D Minor to rapturous applause. Of course they didn’t. They picked up a violin as a child and made screechy noises that drove their parents potty until they could get a half-decent tune out of it, then spent years of practice perfecting their art.

It’s the same with writers. Except that when we play out of tune, it is more difficult for us to hear our screechy prose. Only when we show it to other people do we realise that, maybe, we weren’t as brilliant as we thought we were. You could say that we failed — or you could see it as practice along the way to a virtuoso performance.

I have behind me a list of ‘failures’, of novels that I worked hard on, only to realise they weren’t up to standard. There was the novel I wrote when I was twelve. I had a ball writing that space adventure, bashing away on my dad’s typewriter until I had finished the story. I even sent it to a few publishers, some of whom very kindly wrote back with some encouraging words. I started another book after that, scribbling away in a series of exercise books which even I realised was not very good and abandoned half way through. I wrote a children’s book and then an adult book and then I stopped. Because, by the time I had written that adult book, I was at the stage where I wanted success. I wasn’t prepared to work so hard on a book only for it to fail and languish at the bottom of the drawer. But I showed it to a writer friend and it was clear from her reaction that the novel wasn’t ready to be sent to publishers. To make it ready would mean such a dramatic re-write, that I couldn’t bare it.

I thought I had failed at being a writer.

What I had actually done was practiced really, really hard at my craft. What I needed to do was take what I had learned and keep practicing.

Instead, I gave up writing and got a ‘proper job’.

It was only when things didn’t work out and I was desperate to get back to writing that I realised a very important thing: all the work that I had done in the past had prepared me for this moment. It was all practice. Every time I had written a novel, I had learnt something. I learnt about plot, about character, about structure, about writing discipline. I should be using all of those ‘failures’ as experience I could draw on.

So, I wrote another book. And — what do you know? — it failed. To be accurate, I took it to my writing group and it received a harsh critique. But this time — although I was a little bummed out — I didn’t think of it as failure. I thought of it as a practice session ahead of the real thing. I learnt a lot by writing that novel and realised I could use those things to write something better.

And, guess what? I did! That book is Mind Secrets.

If there’s anything I’ve learned on the road to publication, it is to persevere. Even when things are hopeless, there is always another idea and another story around the corner and this time you are better prepared to tackle it than ever. So, if writing is something you really want to do and you are willing to put the work in, then keep at it. Because each time you think you’ve failed, you’ve actually learnt something which will make you a better writer.

Guest post by Chris Reynolds. Chris Reynolds is a lover of adventure stories. Chris spent her time growing up avidly reading them, watching them on TV and writing them in her school exercise books. She was often frustrated that stories written by other people didn’t go the way she wanted them to, so she decided to write her own. In the interim, she has worked for the BBC and independent radio as a journalist, written for magazines and some published non-fiction books. Now her stories are available for all to read, following the release of her acclaimed debut novel “Mind Secrets”.

Chris lives among the Chiltern Hills, north of London.


Chris will be awarding a $10 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour. One randomly drawn host will win a $10 Amazon GC. So I e
ncourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://www.goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/05/virtual-book-tour-mind-secrets-by-chris.html


  1. Thanks for letting me come along today and play in your sandpit.

    The original title for this piece was persevere - which it's all about really. If you really, really want to be a writer, you just have to keep at it.

    Would other people agree?

  2. Rebecca Hipworth1 August 2012 at 12:49

    A very interesting post. :)


  3. It sounds like a wonderful book.

  4. Very inspirational advice...best of luck with the book!


  5. Thanks for everyone who commented on my tour - I had a blast!

    As promised, one person wins a $10 Amazon gift card - the winner has been announced on my website today (Sat 11th August) ChrisReynolds-writer.co.uk


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