Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Overcoming the Sense of Failure as a Writer #IWSG

The deep dark certainty we've somehow failed as writers is a common ailment we all get at some point in our writing career. It's part of who we are and why we write in the first place. But just because it's as common as a wart doesn't mean we have to put up with it. There are a number of ways to overcome that horrible sense of having failed as a writer. The first and most important way is:

Don't see it as failure.
You know that tenth, fiftieth, one hundredth rejection letter you're holding in your shaking hands? That isn't failure. Instead it's another stone that's been turned on a beach full of possibilities. You know that paragraph/chapter/story that's refusing to write? That isn't failure either. It's a challenge to accept, a chance to rethink, a puzzle to solve.

Mistakes and mess happen, especially when we're writing a first draft. Even when we've reached a tenth draft. The process of writing is a long, slow and messy one. We have to dig in and get our hands dirty to find a treasure. The first try is bound to turn up a wonky throw-away. It's okay, though. We can tweak, adjust, and fix until that baby shines. Or we can toss it and start over. It's just part of the process and doesn't somehow make us failures as writers.

Make failure work for you.
Say you've failed to achieve a goal. A wholesome wallow can be good for the soul. So do your wallowing, maybe eat some chocolate. But don't let the dark depths drown you. Stand up, dust yourself off and get to business. I don't mean blindly charge forward, gritting your teeth in determination until the next fall. I mean, get to the business of dissecting the failure. Ask yourself where you might've tripped up so you don't trip on the same pebble again. Learn where your weaknesses lurk. Then actively work toward strengthening those areas.

Do the same for your successes. Don't simply celebrate and move on. Analyse why you might've succeeded. Why was this time different? You might be tempted to think you were simply lucky. While luck can have a small amount to do with success, it's never the whole story, nor even the main story. If you spend the time to uncover the cogs turning behind your successes, then you'll be more likely to make success happen again.

There's so much more to writing than sticking to schedules and following the rules. We are complex creatures who feed on creativity and wild extremes of emotion. Writing helps us make sense of the chaos. So the only time we fail is when we quit writing.

What are some mistakes you've learned from?

Photo: A photo I took a few years ago in a cave on the south coast of Australia.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer's Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month. 

To join the group or find out more, click here

124 comments:

  1. I think feeling a failure at times goes with the territory. Writing is not for the faint hearted. But we have to keep our eye on the goal and for some that means finding our way through some tricky mountains and valleys. Presently I'm re-writing to an editor's suggestions on my ms, both loving and hating the process. Failure is not a long-term goal...success is.

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    1. Navigating those mountains and valleys is definitely tricky. Best wishes for your editing.

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  2. Learning from both our failures and our successes is fantastic advice. It really is all part of the process, as you said. We just have to keep on going and keep on learning. Great post!

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    1. It's about moving forward with eyes wide open.

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  3. Good advice. In the CSFG writers group there's a bit of a competition going - who can rack up the most rejections in a year. :-)

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    1. So funny, yet oddly encouraging to keep sending out those queries.

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  4. I hated failure when I was younger. I later came to realize that failure is a time to learn and grow. I dissect my successes and failures.

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  5. I don't see every reject as a failure now as I know they don't always mean the story was rubbish - there could be other reasons the market can't use it. Some still hurt though.

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    1. And that's why it's still okay to do a little wallowing. There's no sense pretending some of those rejections don't hurt.

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  6. Write another best seller when you have no idea how you did it the first three times - that's always fun!
    But we can always learn from failure. Plus it keeps us humble.

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    1. lol you'll do fine with your fourth. Just don't rush it.

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  7. One lesson I've learned is not to rush things, not to rush through an edit, not to rush a cover design. There is always tomorrow, and new ideas spring up when I take a break.

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    1. Great advice. Rushing gets us into all sorts of trouble and causes far too many missed opportunities.

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  8. I love your advice on making failure work for us. I got hung up on the chocolate line for a few seconds (celebrating your permission).

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    1. Chocolate is the answer to most problems ;)

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  9. We need to read your post during our dark moments. Writing in part is so hard because sometimes the rewards out there in the world are just not that great. But there's always a good way to look at it.

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    1. That's why we shouldn't write 'to get published'. That's not where the true joy comes from.

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  10. Just pick up and keep going, no matter where you are or what you've done/not done. I think that's the most important. Never give up on your dreams.

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    1. Exactly. Dreams are meant to be chased.

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  11. Wonderful attitude, Lynda. It's only failure if we don't learn or we quit.

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  12. "You know that paragraph/chapter/story that's refusing to write? That isn't failure either. It's a challenge to accept, a chance to rethink, a puzzle to solve."

    I SO needed to read that this morning! I've got a deadline and novel hanging over my head that just isn't seeming to happen. 'Course, life is constantly getting in the way & prohibiting my sitting down at the computer, but still. It's definitely defeating.

    Thanks for the encouragement today!!

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    1. I'm so glad you found it encouraging. Good luck with your deadline, Terri.

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  13. You always have the best photos!
    I guess that comes from living in such a photogenic environment.

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    1. I bet Lyndy took it herself... unlike this lil' spy she never steals them :)

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    2. Thanks, David.
      And yep, Dezzy, I did take it myself.

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  14. Often the only way to truly learn is to fail repeatedly until finding the right answer. That's how my writing and revision usually go. Try something, see it doesn't work, and then go back and try something else until it does work. Takes forever! But it's a process I'm willing to go through.

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    1. Yep, that's how I do it too. And yep, it can take forever. At least, that's how it feels sometimes. ;)

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  15. 'So do your wallowing, maybe eat some chocolate.'

    I'm wondering how chocolate would travel from the west coast of the US to Australia. Would I have to pack it a certain way? I'd think so. It's not quite like Space Invaders drink markers and Dubble Bubble.

    Hmmm.

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    1. Someone once sent me chocolate from Germany. That was rather scrummy. But the problem with sending chocolate to Australia is that it's heavy, which means expensive. So save your coin. I love my Space Invaders drink markers (the Dubble Bubble was pretty awesome too). Hugs.

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    2. Should we ever have the magnificent fortune of meeting face to face, I shall remember dark choc + peppermint or orange.

      xx

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    3. I really hope that one day we do get to meet face-to-face.

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  16. I think dissecting and analyzing our failures AND successes is a great idea, and one I'm definitely going to apply. Thanks for the tip!

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

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  17. I've learned that no matter how much I learn about writing, I'll always be learning more, so there's no point in reworking my manuscript over and over again every time I learn something new. Save it for the next manuscript.

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    1. Yep, there comes a time when we have to set those older manuscripts aside and call them finished. Otherwise they'll never get finished.

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  18. I definitely needed to read the part about the chapter that's refusing to be written. Love the idea of accepting it as a challenge. Maybe that is the kick I need to finally get out of my writing slump.

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    1. I hope so. Good luck with conquering that difficult chapter.

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  19. Learning from our mistakes is always good advice. And I like to be reminded of it.

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  20. Making failure work for you is sometimes difficult, but it's worth it. Love the post!

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    1. Yep, it's easy to stay in the wallowing, which is far less satisfying.

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  21. This struck home. I've been taking a workshop from a published author--Richard Bausch. Quite successful. He has no sense of failure anymore about what he does. It's part of him and it works. I wonder at what point in his life that happened and do I have to wait that long?

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    1. That's a great place to be and I think it's all about attitude and how you approach setbacks.

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  22. The trick is knowing when to move on, with certain stories. Are they just "practice" and a great learning experience, or can we figure out how to fix them and make them sellable? I do like challenges, but sometimes it's wiser to walk away. (Or shelve it until I reach a point that I have a breakthrough and figure out what will make the ms work/shine.)

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    1. I totally agree. This year I set aside one of my favourite manuscripts because it just wasn't right. I may go back to it one day, but not quite yet. I have other stories vying for my attention now.

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  23. Failing is just one more way we learn not to do something, have to push on indeed

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  24. I definitely need to wallow in chocolate at first, but with time, I'm usually able to see the lesson in failure.

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    1. And there's nothing wrong with a little wallow. :)

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  25. I'm noticing Insecure Writer posts that are more poignant than usual. I wonder if this time of year is collectively a time of reflection or insecurity. Your advice about rejection letter is spot on. We are not failing, even if it feels like it.

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    1. Yep, I think it's this time of year. At the beginning of the year there's this surge of fresh hope and positivity and by now that positivity is wearing thin when it turns out things aren't happening as fast as we want.

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  26. Great interpretation of the rejection letter. That's a nice way to look at it.

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  27. Finding value in every failure makes a failure a stepping stone - not a failure. (LOL, yes I did use that word 3 times.) Thanks so much for this.

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    1. It takes skill to use the same word in a sentence three times ;)

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  28. Great post! I know I've definitely felt that, but finding a way to keep going is certainly an important part of reaching goals!

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  29. I learnt from my last colossal mistake. I had queried too fast. Should have queried much later. But we live and learn. Learning from both: our successes and failures is a good thing.

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  30. Very wise post. We wouldn't expect to be successful straight away in any other field, so why writing? The mistakes are what teach us to get better, like you said.

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  31. Writing helps us make sense of the chaos.<<-- This!

    Such an inspiring post and a great way to look at things and the failures we encounter. Thank you!

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    1. I'm glad you found the post inspiring. Thanks for your enthusiasm.

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  32. Sometimes I think we have to experience failure to appreciate--and even realize--success. I like how you mention analyzing success too. It's easy to celebrate and move on, but it's important to know how to recreate it, just as much as it is important to remember a failure, so you can avoid it next time.

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    1. I agree with your assessment about appreciating success.

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  33. I like that you've gone to the next step--what to do after you've realized something you're insecure about as a writer.

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    1. Staying with the insecurity is not in the plan ;)

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  34. Beautiful picture!

    As a teen, I totally saw failures as a challenge. As I've gotten older, I've kind of forgotten that go-getter attitude. Maybe it's a lack of energy, but I appreciate the reminder. Life is what we make of it and failures are only failures if we quit trying. =)

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    1. I think that's quite common. Nothing can stop us when we're young. Maybe that's why YA books are so popular... and not just to a teen audience.

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    2. Agreed! We all need to be reminded on occasion what if feels like to be driven, eh?

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  35. That photo could be the setting for part of a story -- either an initial emergence into the world, or the frantic escape during a climax.

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    1. That's why I like photography so much. It's so inspiring.

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  36. A wise post. We all go through such thoughts. No failures for us - just small steps towards success.

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    1. Yep, those little steps will get us there eventually.

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  37. I want to say I'm getting better at accepting failure, but the truth is I'm living with my head in the sand. I'm not putting myself out there. Hence, no stretch or challenge and no threat of failure. I need a kick in the butt. Thanks, Lynda. Oh, did my mum send you?

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    1. Yep, your mum send me a note to give you a kick. So get out there and challenge yourself! ;)

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  38. Some failures hit harder than others but I try to learn from them.

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  39. It's not a failure if you can take what you learned and move forward from it.

    Great advice, as always.

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  40. Failure has been made into such an ugly thing in todays society, but without failure we would never walk. Toddles fall down and get back up to learn to do it well. Failure is actually only a learning curve, for without it we would not learn anything.

    Even saying that it is sometimes hard to take, especially the older you get I think because you think adult. I should know it all, or I do not have that many begin again in me. It is funny that life is a school and we are its students. You can apply that to everything you encounter throughout a lifetime.

    I like the positive slant of analysis you put on failure.
    “Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.” ― Irving Berlin

    Juneta at Writer's Gambit

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    1. Well said. It's all about how we judge failure--no one would say a toddler falling has failed. Everyone understands it's just part of learning to walk.

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  41. Fantastic post. When I was young, I couldn't handle the rejections. Now I take a deep breath, eat some chocolate, and move on. I used to see writing as a solitary pursuit, but now I reach out and get some help when I need it. That's very important to learn!

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    1. See, chocolate helps!!
      And yes, writing shouldn't be so solitary.

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  42. Thanks so much for the advice. I try to find a positive in all failures. I've had several failures, but tried to rework them in my mind to turn them into something I can work through.

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    1. The mind is a powerful force and so is positivity.

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  43. A great positive attitude to life's "learning opportunities".

    One thing I've learned to be cautious of is trying to repeat successes. A couple of times now I've had a great success in some activity, and then tried to repeat it and failed dismally. I think overconfidence led me to overlook vital differences in the subsequent situations that meant what worked before couldn't simply be repeated.

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    1. Good point. Overconfidence can cause us to trip up many times. Moving forward with caution is definitely the way to go.

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  44. l have always thought of rejection slips as badges of honor. Only the hopeful, determined writer continues as the pile grows. But there comes a time that the form letter has become rejection with feedback, or the feedback has become a request for rewrite + resubmit.

    I'm a dreamer :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. I have to say the rejections with feedback are a joy. (Never thought I'd say that, lol)

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  45. Hi, Lynda,

    This is JUST what I needed to read today. I just received my FIRST rejection of the queries I had sent out this week. I wasn't upset, just disgusted. Like you say it's only one pebble on the beach. I have a LONG querying road ahead. I just wish the rejection letter would have SAID SOMETHING other than this is not right for me... blah, blah, blah. At least the agent addressed it to me and not "Dear Author." A small miracle in itself. LOL.

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    1. Even a Dear Author is better than no response at all. And yes, it's a long beach. Enjoy the stroll ;)

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  46. Someone pointed out that every rejection takes you one step closer to success. That is definitely true. I stopped counting rejections after 20 or 30 and just ignored them, mostly. I always tried to have so many submissions and contest entries out at the same time, that one rejection didn't really phase me. It was only when I got my hopes up because an editor/agent showed real interest that a rejection really hurt.

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    1. It definitely gets easier, but I hear you with it hurting more when we get our hopes up. Yay for chocolate.

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  47. It reminds me of a walk-a-thon I did when I was much younger. At the beginning I was full of bravado and confidence. Three hours and about 9 miles in, I sat down to lunch. Big mistake - but at least I got to change my socks. :O) Three quarters of the way, I hit a big old wall. Thoughts of the caution "we'll have a van following in case people cannot make it" filled my head. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. At the end, I was literally sliding my feet along the ground, none of that actually picking the feet up for this woman! But I did not stop. And I crossed the finish line.

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    1. That's a fantastic analogy. I love it.

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  48. To me, feeling like writing everyday is a success. Looking back on what I wrote and actually liking it is a success. Success for different people is different things-- and if we all choose to see lessons in our failures and move on, success might just find us.

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    1. I totally agree that success is different for everyone, but I also agree that success is liking what you write. It doesn't have to be perfect to be liked.

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  49. Awesome advice! That bit about not seeing failures as failures and the one about learning from a failure is key to living as a writer. It's definitely an important thing to learn. :-)

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    1. Sometimes it can take some time to learn ;)

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  50. Some solid, and great advice to all writers. It's good to place things in a positive perspective.

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    1. I'd go further and suggest it's essential to have a positive perspective.

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  51. That is an absolutely lovely photo :) And lord yes, the only way to deal with mistakes is to learn from them and move on. Otherwise, I just end up torturing myself. Which I still do sometimes. It's a work in progress...

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    1. and it will always be a work in progress--the crucial word being 'progress'.

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  52. Failure is a powerful way to grow!!! It just depends on the way you use the failure...as a stepping stone or a boulder on your back. I love the photo and this post! Thank you, for the motivation!

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    1. I love the way you put it.
      Thanks so much, Cynthia.

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  53. Not that I let it last too long, but I sometimes feel like a failure when it seems no one is at all interested in even sampling my work, for free. I feel like, if I can't give this stuff away, then why bother. Then I remember that I don't write for those people. I write for me and share with anyone who is willing to try it.

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    1. That's a great reminder. If we try to write for everyone, we set ourselves up for a fall.

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  54. Yes! Best advice I've seen for dealing with failure in a while. Turn it on its head!

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  55. Awesome advice..now if only we could convince ourselves about it.

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  56. Always great advice, Lyn. :) Good to see you.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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  57. The biggest mistake I have made in my writing career is to rush sending it out to agents and not using an editor. Now I have a ton of steps I go through before I hit that send button.

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