That title up there is a quote taken from a surgeon character in one of my favourite TV shows. At the end of the episode I went back and listened again to her little speech about trying again and failing again, because “that’s what progress looks like”. And she’s right. Progress does look like failure a lot of time, most especially in writing where we hopefully send our pieces out into the world and either never hear back or find them rejected.
The more I consider this sage piece of wisdom the more I want to apply it to myself. I started this year with a number of goals in an attempt to become a better writer. As the year draws to a close I haven’t yet been published anywhere, I haven’t even won a competition. If I were in a pessimistic frame of mind I might look back with a solemn heart at what I could consider my failures – but with every submission, with each attempt I have made, I have progressed just that little bit further on this journey of writing.
Perhaps this is why we so often hear of writers who have stored away every rejection slip and dismissal of their work; these are not evidence of failure, they are proof of progress. From the outside looking in, and sometimes even on the inside, what we think of as failure is, in fact, another step toward success. We are growing, learning, correcting our mistakes and improving with each attempt. This is progress. We often do not see it until the journey is complete and we can realise the contribution each phase has made. But with each ‘failure’ we alter our perceptions, reassess our worth and (hopefully) continue on. Now I realise this is what progress looks like, it’s much easier to see.
So my advice to you is to look back upon your year and don’t just count the accomplishments – the short-listed story or the NaNoWriMo win – consider your failures too: those competitions where your work did not even warrant a mention, the story you put away because you struggled too much with it, the novel you haven’t yet completed. These are all signs of progress, of chances you’re taking and the investment you are placing in yourself.
I will make many more attempts with my writing, and I am guaranteed to be unsuccessful in some, at least. But if I can see these challenges as progress, as proof of my continued effort to move forward with my dream; how can I be ashamed of any failure at all? At the very least if I have failed at something it demonstrates I’m still trying.