Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Reaction To Failure Post Brought Forward

Number of Requests for “Fail to Success”…

So I brought this post which I think says it perfectly from 2018… No memory of the challenge I was talking about, or much else from 2018 since Kris was so sick and we moved to Vegas about that point. But somehow I managed this post, so hope it helps some…

Maybe One of the Best Quotes from The Voice Ever…

On Tuesday, while talking to and encouraging a young woman who didn’t get a chair to turn, Adam Levine said to her out of nowhere, and I quote,

“It’s your reaction to your failures that make your success.”

As many things on The Voice, this applies directly to writing as well. Directly.

Now this young girl just failed in front of millions of people, but she had the courage to try out and to walk up there on that stage and give it a shot. Total success. She got to sing in front of millions and that is a bunch better than most singers ever manage in entire careers.

How does this saying apply in writing? About a thousand different ways, actually.

For example, I am constantly reminding writers that it really isn’t the end product that matters, it is the fun and experience of telling a story that is important. But writers make that final product “special” by giving the final product all the focus.

And when a story doesn’t work out well, what are young writers trained to do? Rewrite it, of course.

That is a reaction to a failure.

And in my opinion, a bad one. A better reaction would be to move on, keep learning, and work to make the next story better. Keep practicing.

One singer this week on The Voice got a two-chair turn. She had been there last season and got no one to turn. So she listened to the coaches, went home and worked harder than ever and kept learning and got better FOR THE NEXT TIME.

She didn’t wallow in that one missed song. She worked to get better and make the next song better. And it paid off and she made it on The Voice this season.

But beginning writers just wallow (and I use that word purposely in case you are deft to the meaning of words) in rewriting the same story over and over and over.

A really bad reaction to failure.

Another example: I am in the middle of a challenge (actually just starting it) and some of the writers who signed up to write 30 short stories in 60 days or three novels in three months are struggling. These challenges are difficult at best, but accomplishing the challenge is only one learning area.

Failing at a challenge can be far, far more of a learning experience.

These writers on these challenges have the courage to give something a try, to push themselves beyond their normal levels of writing and focus and learning. I think that is a total success no matter the final outcome.

What Adam was saying is another way of approaching failure when I say “Fail to success.”

Say a writer is working on three novels in three months. And gets two done.

Flip that and look at the success. A writer wrote two novels in three months, which to most would be astoundingly cool! Total success.

Writing 30 short stories in sixty days, and get 24 stories done. That is more short stories than most writers will write in two years. Not a failure because the goal of 30 wasn’t hit. Nope, a total success at writing 24 stories.

How you approach your writing with what Adam Levine said is so critical. “It is your reaction to your failures that make your success.”

I try to teach that here and in the courses all the time. In so many different ways. And yet Adam, in a conversation with a young singer, said it so clearly.

So what can you learn from a challenge? I have gotten that question a bunch of times and the answer is a thousand things, actually. Including your own reaction to a challenge.

But mostly, a challenge will help you learn what your reaction is to failure. Giving up is a reaction and a bad one.

I have 83 days left on my challenge. And I will push on the challenge right up to the very last day because I learned a long time ago that giving up is a bad reaction to a failure. It spins you into places you don’t want to be.

Honestly, when I look back at the last 40 years of writing, the only reason I am here is because I know how to react to failure and I never give up. And trust me, in fiction writing, failure is part of the landscape.

So give that simple sentence that Adam Levine said some thought. And then look at how you react to failure and maybe start making some changes.

Writing is a ton more fun when you focus on the fun of telling a story and stop worrying so much about failure.

Failure is going to happen. So what?  Fail to success.




  • Philip

    Dean, I’ve failed the Bradbury Challenge (Short Story A Week) several times so far this year, but I took a look at my short story inventory for 2023 and I’ve already finished TRIPLE the stories I wrote in all of 2022.

    I’d say you’re spot on.

    • Kerridwen Mangala McNamara

      Powerfully put!
      It’s something I learned, growing up as the daughter of s serial entrepreneur. My dad has been more successful in other people’s terms with each new business… and he’s learned so much, taught so much, and given do much to the world (more every time he “failed to success”)! It’s a message I’ve tried to share (and model) for my own kids and for the other kids I’ve mentored.

      I wonder if this is a message that is getting lost in more recent generations. There seems to be a bigger penalty being societally imposed for “failure ” than when i was a kid. And perhaps that was more than when my dad was a kid?

      Opportunities like indie publishing fight that trend potentially…

      • S. H. Miah

        As someone in that younger generation (turning 21 in a few weeks), I believe your assessment is true. In the millennial generation working hard to achieve dreams was seen as normal if not praiseworthy. Now, the mere idea of working hard at something is frowned upon by gen z; it’s strangely seen as uncool.

        And that plays into the fear of failure as people don’t want to ‘fail’ in front of their friends by working hard at something. Oddly, the failure isn’t at the end, it’s at the start.

        • dwsmith

          Weirdly, I am seeing the exact opposite of this coming young generation. They are really going after things, changing things. I am stunningly encouraged by this young generation and how hard they work. And the risks they take.

          • S. H. Miah

            There has been a resurgence of hustle culture recently, especially online. So things are definitely heading in the right direction with regards to attitude.

          • dwsmith

            I pay little attention to what is online, little meaning none. I am talking about real kids in real time in real space. They are flat amazing these days. More active and involved by a long ways even over my 1960s generation. Wonderful to see.

  • Sheila

    Never hurts to read this again, Dean. Thanks for reposting.

    As for Gen Z, they are working hard, in their own way, likely a better way. At any rate, this is all going to be theirs, and soon.

  • Chong Go

    “Dare to be bad,” and “Just write the next sentence” have been *huge* for me. Perfectionism really shut me down when I was younger, but these two have gotten me past a lot of blocks. “Okay, let’s just do one sentence” and often that will open up a flow of ideas and productive work. Thanks so much!