What does Failure look like?
Failure. It’s the fear of something that hasn’t happened yet. For me it’s a big black pit in my stomach that calls out What if this happens …. What if that happens ….
The fear of failure holds back many a writer. What if they don’t like my work? What if it’s never produced? What if…. Fear of failure can lead to writers stall, writers block, to writers never picking up the pen again.
What do you do to fight the fear? I want to know. We all want to know how others do it.
Personify failure. Create a picture of what failure looks like to you. Give it a name, a look, a way of standing. Turn failure into a character. And then write a scene where you talk to you failure. What would you say to this thing if you had it right in front of you? Make yourself the super hero super shipper of work and take failure down!
If it helps, print the scene up and tear the paper into little bits afterwards. Or maybe develop it further. There’s nothing more theatrical than taking something that isn’t human and put it on the stage.
If a fear of failure is holding you back, don’t stare at a blank page. Write down all your fears. Never leave a fear in your head. What’s the one thing you fear that hasn’t happened yet with the piece you’re working on? What are five steps you could take to combat this fear?
How do you define success?
If you’re reflecting back at the year that just happened and thinking about the year ahead, it’s inevitable you’re going to consider success and failure. Maybe it’s been a year where there have been more of one than the other. This may be uplifting or send you in a down ward spiral.
If you’re in reflection mode and planning mode it’s vital that you determine this one thing:
What is success?
You not only need to define this for yourself, you need to write it down. Put it somewhere safe (and that you can remember) so you can return to this definition on an annual basis.
It’s important to define success for yourself because there is no one definition. Not in the arts.
An actor can work on TV or on the stage or in movies. Which is the definition of success? Is it TV or movies? Is getting awards the definition of success? Is it money? Is it getting an agent? Is it acting on stage on a regular basis?
A writer can write novels, plays, or screen plays. Which is the definition of success? Is it writing every day? Is it getting a book deal? Is it being produced on Broadway?
Further to that, you can’t define your success on the success of others. This is a trap. As a young playwright I made this mistake time and time again. I lived a bitter life because I looked at the success of other writers and I defined myself on those successes. If I didn’t get what they had, I was a failure. But when I defined success for myself I realized I didn’t really want what they had.
What is success?
When you define success you have a goal. If you have a goal, you can create action steps toward that goal. Steps are important. You don’t want to leave your goals in dream land. “I wish I could do this…. I would love to be that….”
Don’t dream about success. Write down your definition. Take action.
Fight the Fear
I am angry at an airline. It’s not an airline I usually fly. Their booking process makes me feel all angsty. They charged for check bags.
When an airline charges for checked bags it only makes sense that people who have already shelled out for a ticket don’t want to pay extra just to bring their things along. It makes further sense that people who want to bring things will cram as much as humanly possible (babies, kitchen sinks, sandwiches) into their carry on.
Now comes the math. If people don’t want to pay extra just to bring their things along, and everyone is cramming kitchen sinks into their carry on, and no one is enforcing the “your-carry-on-bags-must-be-this-big” rule, planes are going to run out of bin space. It only makes sense.
So what happens? Tense negative announcements via Cruella DeAirline:
This is going to be a full flight. Stuffed to the gills. Do you hear me? Every seat will be taken. Every single sitting surface is occupied. That means we’re going to run out of bin space you naughty children for bringing all that big luggage. If we don’t get twenty people to gate check their bags, you’re going to be very very sorry. You better do it. Or else.
That’s what the announcements feel like. And this announcement isn’t made once. It’s made three, four, sometimes five times. When I hear this, and I know I’m later in the boarding process, I get anxious. I get flight anxiety before we even leave the ground. Heart racing. Breathing heavy. Unattractive sweat.
Is there going to be room for my bag? What’ll I do if there isn’t room? For the love of all things holy what will I do with my bag?
I won’t lie. The announcements freak me out. The airline is trying to scare me into gate checking a bag before they know they’ll run out of room. It’s working.
And it’s unnecessary.
On my most recent three trips with this airline I get on the plane and there’s plenty of space. I put my knapsack in the bin right above my seat. Everything is calm and right with the world.
That pisses me off.
The fear is unnecessary. The lecture is unnecessary. The you better do this preemptive scolding is unnecessary.
Unnecessary Fear in Our Writing
What unnecessary fear do you have in your life? What preemptive negative thoughts hover over your writing? Who is scolding you?
Why don’t you get a real job? Why aren’t you cleaning the house? You’re just wasting your time.
Is that voice telling you to give up?
You’ll never be a writer, why bother? What are you fooling around for? Do you know how many writers get rejected on a daily basis? How many fail?
Maybe the voice you hear is yours.
I don’t have time. I’ll never finish. No one will like this, it’s no good.
You need to fight the fear. That is what those negative voices are: fear.
- Fear of the unknown.
- Fear of something that hasn’t happened yet.
- Fear of bin space that hasn’t run out.
You have no idea what the real story will be till you finish your work. It may be rejected, but it may not. You have no idea if the plane will run out of bin space until it actually does.
Don’t be afraid of something that hasn’t happened yet with your writing. Don’t let fear stop you from picking up a pen or finishing a draft. Take a deep breath when the scolding starts and do the only proactive thing possible.