Monday, September 5, 2011


Oh, how does one really define failure? It's not quite so simple. It's NEVER been quite-so-simple. But when has an artist's life ever been easy? (We pull things from places that other people don't even know exist.)

I feel like I'm perceived as a failure. I'm not saying that I sit around and feel miserable, weeping for myself, wondering why I'm not successful. I am successful in smaller ways... I get good feedback, I write a well-circulated blog article, or someone buys me a cup of coffee just for my input. But, as a writer, I think that the feeling of failure isn't exactly a fleeting one. Let me explain...

I think that writers (as with most art) work doesn't really "count" in the world until we sell something. Now, I've sold my work before, but not anything that could account for a sustainable income.

There is a difference between failing in other careers and failing in the arts. If you fail to get a certain job or promotion, you are no less an engineer or a nurse. You are those professions, and any failure you have along the way is a singular event. No one looks at a nurse who isn't the head of her department as a failure. No one looks at an engineer who is incapable of designing the Louvre as a failure. However...

As writer, unless you are money or a household name, you have failed at your career. In writing, there is only so much room at the top. And unfortunately, in the eyes of the world, there really isn't anything below the top when it comes to writing/art.

Which means unless you are at the top, you have failed as a writer, and though you may continue to write, until you are published, you have not succeeded.

Granted, this is not how I see it. It is the perception that I have gleamed from writers in my little corner of the world and reaching outwards. It is well decided that this is how the world sees us.

I don't feel like a failure, though. But, I know a lot of people see me as a failure (namely, my family and some "friends"). I think this a vague understanding in the trade... we have something to prove to someone or to ourselves. (While there is always an exception somewhere, surely, someone wanting to be the exception just for sake of being different, well... don't start, I've seen the other sides of this argument, thanks.)

I feel bad for people who pay $10 to go see a movie so that they can be entertained for a while and escape from their lives... and then have the audacity to judge me for what I do. I am in league with the people who write that music you listen to, that movie you just saw, or that book you just read. No one magically comes out on top, most of those people you adore and praise were once "hopeless dreamers" too. The successful artists were once just like me.

So, until you lay down that MP3 player, turn off your radio, remove paintings from your wall, and stop watching movies... stop judging me.

PS- Most writers want to make money writing not because it's easy, but because we would like to be able to quit one of our full time jobs.


  1. I don't really have any writer friends. I have writing acquaintances through my crit group, but I don't really hang out with them socially (although loaning my beloved Stargate DVDs to one was definitely a step in that direction!). I have just started to make writing friends on Twitter, but that's still a very new thing.

    I've often had cause to regret not having friends who shared my passion, but perhaps I was lucky enough to miss out on this aspect of it. While I am aware of the 'failure' perception you are talking about, I have never had to experience it for myself. I have a successfyl career for my day job, and my non-writer friends have an expectation that I will succeed at writing - whether there is any truth to this or not is a moot point. Their blind faith in me has always buffered me from this profound sense of failure that dogs so many other artists. My husband even tells people how brilliant a writer I am - despite having read very little of my manuscript.

    Perhaps there are reasons for me to be grateful that writing friends are a relative newcomer in my life.

  2. What you wrote strikes a chord in me. Whenever I've sold a novel, I've at the same time felt awful about the way the sale happened. Other people would be thrilled for me and I'd be backpedaling: something about the sale was less than that glorious "success" that's the common way of understanding writer-success. In my case it's "published, but not published WELL."

    I'm not being judged by others. I'm the one who's judging myself.

  3. That's probably why I'm a big supporter of self-pubbing. I think that I would also encounter that same issue, and instead of trying to justify it to myself, I plan on doing a traditional route. I say traditional in that I intend to hire an editor, cover designer, etc. But, I will self pub, so that my book stands on its own. But, I know this also sets me up for a more crushing failure, should it come to that.