Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary universe has 70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. They’re all great, I would expect nothing less from Howard, but one of them, in particular, is close to my heart.
Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.Maxim 70 – Howard Tayler
Everybody fails! It’s such a glorious idea! Frankly, I love this thing so much that someday I may, indeed, bust out my pitiful cross stitching skills and make a pillowcase or something featuring it. It is, in a word, perfection. I doubt I have ever met a person who’s never once failed in their life. And I’m sure that if I ever do meet that person, they’ve never tried anything new in their life either.
With that in mind, and expecting the next time I fail, here is what I’ve found works for me upon failure. I’m laying this out for myself as much as I am for everyone else. It is genuinely hard to move on right after failure and the next time I fail, I can just refer to this blog post.
The first thing you do is you admit that you’ve failed. This is utterly crucial. Maybe you get wasted on bad whiskey. (Although I can’t really recommend this. Life is simply too short for bad whiskey.) Maybe you drown your sorrows on a gallon of ice cream. Whatever it is, you take some time to mourn your losses or what could have been. Depending on the failure, this can be a short time or a long time.
The second thing you do is accept the failure. But for me, at least, a crucial part of accepting the failure is trying to figure out what went wrong. This can be an ongoing process that happens for a long time. I’ve mentioned before that around January of 2018 I realized that I had been writing the wrong book for 40 000 words. That’s about 150 pages in a published paperback for those readers not conversant in word counts. A short book in other words. I threw most of those words away and eventually set about writing the book that I’m currently editing Cold Burn Goodbye. I did some work at the moment to figure out why that particular book went off the rails and moved on. I am still tweaking and changing my process for writing novels so that it never happens again on another book.
Plan the work
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? After you’ve failed at whatever, you probably still have the drive that made you try it in the first place. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve failed at knitting. But I still want/wanted the product I had failed at. So, it’s back to the drawing board. Figure out why I failed to make what I wanted. Usually, that stage also involves hitting the helpful projects for the pattern on Ravelry, which is a wonderful resource for fiber artists in general. And after that, I figure out what to do going forward. When it’s to do with knitting, it’s usually going down a size or two with the needles I’m using or knitting the pattern in a size or two smaller. I’ve done that enough times by now that usually, I can anticipate and correct ahead of time.
As for novels? Well, I’m still sort of feeling my way in terms of novels, but even there, I find a plan helps me work faster. Which is why I keep saying that I’m a pantser by nature, but do plotting in self-defense.
Work the plan!
Yup, this too, is predictable. Once I have a plan, I go at it, with possibly an added reminder pinned somewhere for why I want to keep doing this thing. Last year, when I failed on the novel, I had a deadline. Technically, I had two deadlines; one to deliver the first 50 pages and another to deliver the full novel. If I missed my deadlines, I wouldn’t have been able to get the kind of feedback I got. Deadlines work, for me at least. Especially when they’re external deadlines. Beyond that, once more, I find gamification extremely works for me.
Now, dear reader, it is your turn. What do you do to get over a failure?