Leaping Into Failure: Chances Are You’ll Reach Excellence

Sometimes we have to hear it from someone else.  We know the facts, but they always seem to apply to someone else.  Someone else can write a book, find an energetic, nurturing agent, and have multiple high profile publishers engaged in a six-figure auction for the right to bring your book to the world.

But what you write, and how you do it, makes you feel like you’re missing some secret that keeps you right on the edge of being a great writer, preventing you from being that writer in the spotlight, taking the bow.

There’s no fun in writing, it’s a struggle, you fear the blank page every time you sit down at the computer.  If you can’t write a million-seller, you are a failure.

Okay, if that’s your viewpoint, it is definitely time to watch the commencement address by Neil Gaiman to the 2012 graduates at the University of the Arts.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Did you catch what he said?  Rules are made by people who haven’t tested the bounds.  If you want to do something, write something, create something – just do it.  Don’t wait around for permission, or for someone else to try it so you can be sure it works before making your move.

When I was a systems engineer in the aerospace industry, there were times I knew following some of the rules would not allow the team to finish a project on time, or achieve the result the customer wanted.  I operated on the theory that it was better to ask forgiveness later for overtime or for using untried methods (never the safety or quality rules), if I could get the project done to the satisfaction of the customer and management.  And you know what?  I very seldom had to ask for forgiveness after successfully delivering a project.  Forgiveness is so much easier to get when you’ve done well for everyone involved.  Don’t get bogged down in the rules that prevent you from taking those chances.  Leap into your work and take those chances with glee.

Taking chances does open you to the possibility of failure.  Not every book or story survives, and that’s okay.  No, it really is.  Some of the best writers, the ones who sell the most books have failed with their first efforts.  Can you imagine the world of horror writing if Stephen King had given up after that first rejection slip?  In fact, the more rejection slips you accrue, the better.  If you take another hard look at your manuscript and make it better, each rejection slip becomes a step closer to that big sale.  Look for what you did get out of the effort (even if it’s an electric typewriter), what you learned from the failure.  Sometimes, that means putting Manuscript #1 in the bottom drawer and getting on with Manuscript #2.  That’s okay.

Throw yourself into a project where you take must take a chance.  Stretch yourself just an inch beyond your limits.  Do it with enthusiasm.  Do it with joy. 

Before you get started on that project, leave a comment and tell us what you are going to take a chance on next.  I hope you have a long list of ideas you are ready to dive into.  All we other failures are here cheering you on to the first big failure on your path to excellence.