Friday, March 26, 2010

A big fat (literally given my big ol' belly) failure!


On Monday we talked about how to handle "waiting," a necessary evil in writing.

Another necessary "piece of crap" that comes with writing, whether we like it or not, is failure.

Yesterday, the finalists in the Golden Heart contest were announced. A ton of people got some GREAT news. However, close to a thousand people saw only this as their phone sat silent:

YOU FAILED!

That's right. Some may balk at this, saying you didn't fail. You just didn't win. That you only fail if you don't try.

But I gotta tell you folks. As one of almost a thousand people who didn't get a phone call, in the moment, no platitudes make it better. I failed to win, plain and simple.

Contests aren't the only place where we will fail as writers. Agent rejection letters come back, and it feels like our 5th grade teacher handing us a paper with a big fat F on it. Editors will shake their heads at our proposal, saying that it just doesn't fit in their lineup right now. BEEP BEEP-- look out! Here comes FAILURE! And when you are published, you'll still have editors shaking their head, but even more, you'll have readers who post nasty reviews about how awful your book is. They might as well just write, "Na na na na na na! You are a failure!!"

Don't like the word failure? Fine, replace it with disappointment, rejection, a road block, a door slammed in your face, or whatever other label you want. It still hurts. It still stinks.

So, as a fellow failure of a writer (MUHAHAHA! I know I won't ALWAYS be a failure... well, I HOPE not anyway!) I want to share with you my view on the stages of coping with failure. I'll use a contest failure as an example, since it's most fresh in my mind. Replace the descriptions with your own situation.
  • Stage One: Denial. This is where I keep an eye on the RWA website, hoping maybe my name will pop up on the list even though I didn't get a call. They could make a mistake and forget to call me right?
  • Stage Two: Blame Shifting. They MUST have lost the entry. There is simply NO other explanation!
  • Stage Three: Fear. What if... what if they didn't forget to call... didn't lose the entry? What if... *gasp* I just didn't final???
  • Stage Four: Anger. Those stupid no-good rotten judges! They hate me. They figured out who it was, and they must have lowered my scores because they have some vendetta against me. I probably got all the judges who like to give low scores just for fun... like those teachers in school who laugh with glee as they get out their red pen and write "F!" at the top of your paper.
  • Stage Five: Superiority. Those judges... seriously? They can't judge worth a hoot. If they are published, I bet their books aren't even selling! Poor people... they don't even know a good book when they see it!
  • Stage Six: Guilt. If the judges can't tell a good book from a bad one, am I saying the people who final.ed didn't deserve it? That would be mean of me. And those judges are people too... they worked hard to get where they are, and spent a lot of time judging out of the kindness of their heart.
  • Stage Seven: Saddness. It settles in. I didn't final. It isn't the judges fault. It's mine. My entry just plain wasn't good enough.
  • Stage Eight: Grief. Mourning the loss of a contest is normal and needed. It stinks to lose, plain and simple. It's time to feel a wee bit sorry for myself.
  • Stage Nine: Acceptance. So, I didn't final. Nothing I can do about that now. I can't roll back time and redo my entry. I can't change a judges mind. Time to move on.
  • Stage Ten: Victory. The failed contest entry doesn't have to define me. I am a writer, and a good one at that. I might not have won, but I can work on my writing and get better. I can wait and get the scores, and work on the areas they pointed out. There is always next year. There is always the next book.
The biggest thing I want everyone to get from my blog today is this:

DO NOT LET FAILURE DEFINE YOU AS A WRITER!

There are ups and downs in writing, just like there is in life, and in every other career for that matter. Get through stage one - nine quickly (don't feel like you have to skip stages to be a good person... just don't wallow in any one stage for too long!) Then move on. Do better. It's like the wonderful saying I always heard in church growing up... we may lose a battle or two, but with God, we'll win the war!

Discussion: Any stages I forgot? How do you cope with failure? Please, no "so sorry you didn't lose.. those stupid judges!" comments. I'm past stage 4 and 5 and don't want to regress! ha!

17 comments:

Aubrie said...

There's so many failures that I feel likes its a lottery game and I have to keep entering to get something eventually. Don't feel bad :) Keep trying :)

Katie Ganshert said...

That's a pretty accurate depiction of what I go through, although I jump from one to the other in no logical order.

Jody Hedlund said...

Great post, Krista! I think we really do feel like a failure--at least initially. We question ourselves and wonder if we really have what it takes. But as you said, we need to move through the stages and not let it keep us from pursuing our love of writing!

Portia said...

This is completely true, and well said. I have to add, when I first get bad news I can't talk about it. I might tell my husband, but he knows to let me alone for a few hours to "grieve" before I can talk about what I plan to do next.

layinda said...

This couldn't have been a more perfectly timed post. I just got a rejection on a partial last evening, with the comments that it was "a really interesting beginning and had wonderful detail," but that they didn't love it ENOUGH to want to rep it. I think I'm at stage four!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Oh, Krista, you did a great job on this post. This article would be great for The Christian Communicator.

You nailed the stages. I recognized every one of them.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jason said...

Excellent post, Krista. You seem to have nailed everything!

Susan R. Mills said...

Failure is definitely tough to deal with. I think your list sums it up nicely. The Victory stage sure feels good when you finally get there.

Maria I. Morgan said...

I know how you feel, Krista! I entered the Cheerios' Spoonfuls of Stories contest and my story was rejected, too! I love my story and plan on shopping it around in spite of the initial rejection. You're absolutely right, we just lost a minor battle, but we CAN win the war! Have a blessed weekend!

patti said...

Wow! You really nailed the description, Krista.

I love your blog because:
your writing shine.
you aren't afraid to let emotion peek from behind the clouds and wave.
you tackle REAL subjects.

Blessings
Patti

T. Anne said...

Aww, I'm sorry but as usual I love your funny post. I think you nailed all the stages. If it makes you feel better I'm not even familiar with that contest and i think you rock!

Krista Phillips said...

Aubrie: Yes, sometimes it does seem like a game of chance! But I know that it's really anything but:-)

Katie: TOTALLY right! They don't have to go in that order, and sometimes we repeat steps, lol!

Jody: Yes! The key is to get beyond it.. not let it stop us! It's so tempting in the midst though...

Portia: It's funny, 'cause I'm the opposite! It HELPS for hubby to console me and give me a pep talk... LOL. I think we're all different that way!

Layinda: I TOTALLY understand!!! Just 6 more stages and you're good to go!

Susan & Jason: THANKS!

Susan M: Yes! Victory!!! Makes me want to break out in my slightly off-key version of "Victory in JESUS!"

Maria: Yep! We'll win that war yet, girlfriend!

Patti: awww! Such GREAT compliments, THANK YOU!!! I *heart* your blog too!

Anne: So glad my failure can make you laugh!!! LOL! And yes, it DOES make you feel bad. Like when a boyfriend dumps you and your best friend says, "DOn't worry, he was ugly anyway!" :-)

Carol Bruce Collett said...

Krista, I don't even have to enter a contest to feel like a failure! All I have to do is think about all the time I've wasted when I could have been writing. Or all the times I didn't meet word count goals. Or...fill in the blank. In my head I know I'm not a failure, but in my heart it sure feels like I am some days.

Keli Gwyn said...

Krista, you definitely have a handle on the stages. I've been through them all numerous times. When I began entering contests in 2007, I put my four manuscripts out there a total of 34 times. Yup. I was determined to learn, but, wow, was it ever a painful process. I managed to final a few times, but there were 26 times in a one year period I didn't. Can you say glutton for punishment?

Yesterday, I was reminded of that experience as I thought of the many writers eager to receive a call but didn't. And I cried. Often. Gwynly wondered what was wrong with me. All I could say was that I was sad because I knew many of my friends were hurting, and I ached for them.

I wish I could reach out and give you a great big hug, Krista, but you'll have to settle for a cyber variety. ((())) I believe in you and have faith good things are in store. I'm eager to celebrate with you.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

I beg to differ, but the Golden Heart is like any other contest. It is subjective. It is judged by your peers and there is no criteria in place for the judges who judge except a piece of paper with rules.

This makes it wholly subjective. I have finaled twice. I have NOT finaled more than a dozen times.

I have never finaled with my manuscript that sold.

Ruth Logan Herne has never finaled and yet she SOLD all three books that did not final back to back to Steeple Hill last year.

Harlequin SuperRomance author Trisha Millburn finaled in the Golden Heart 8 times before she sold.

This doesn't downplay the wonderfully talented writers who did final. We are all thrilled for them, however it is still a contest.

And if your baby isn't appealing to this year's judges it is certainly possible that they weren't wearing the right glasses and maybe next year your baby will be a standout to the judges.

Don't give up, and don't let a contest the yardstick of your writing. The Golden Heart is icing on the cake, but it is not the cake.

Krista Phillips said...

Tina! I totally get you. It IS like every other contest, and it totally IS subjective. In the Genesis last year, I got 2 scores in the 90's and notes that they loved my MS... but one score in the 60's that tore it to shreds.

Really, I was talking about ANY contest, ANY place were we feel like we failed. I "failed" at two contests last year too. I "failed" when I got that rejection letter last week.

But I "aced" it when 2 agents asked for a full.

I'm not saying I'm a failure at writing all together. I AM saying I "failed" to final in the 2010 GH contest. And really, I'm at stage 10 now. (I was about a 6 when I wrote the post Thursday night though, HA!)

My point is, in the moment, we "feel" like failures. We "feel" sometimes like giving up. But, for me, it gives me hope to know that if I just march on and not wallow there, I can overcome and come out a better write because of my failure.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Amen!!! We go through the stages of grieving. Then pull up our big girl panties and move on.

Sometimes the victory goes to the one left standing :)