Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

Bookmark and Share

My Account
About IGMS / Staff
Write to Us


  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
August 2017

Embracing Failure

Our society pretends that it values creativity. And it does—successful creativity, creativity that can be monetized, creativity everyone likes and approves of, creativity that doesn’t ruffle feathers, non-political creativity, creativity that is at the end of a long road of creative failure. The problem is that society doesn’t realize that all that failure is a necessary part of creativity, and only rewarding the end of the journey means that a lot of people are going to give up before they find success. I think this is truly tragic. It’s bad for our society and bad for us individually as creative types.

What we need to do is celebrate failure more often. I know that sounds crazy. If we reward failure instead of success, what’s going to happen? We’ll get people failing more and who needs that? Well, we all do. We need to be praised for our attempts, not our successes. Because we don’t have control over success. We don’t have control over other people’s opinions of our work. We can only control how often we try, and if we’re not rewarded for that in some way, we’re going to stop trying.

You remember when your kids were little and they brought home a drawing they’d made and you praised them for it, not because you were lying but because you truly loved how expressive it was and how they had put their whole selves into it? You loved that drawing because it was a truly impressive product when you understood how little training they’d been given. You loved it because they knew very well that your face isn’t purple but they said that sometimes it looked purple in the moonlight and you saw how creative that was. Well, we need to do that for artists of all kinds.

Now, what I’m going to hear is that there are lots of cretive types out there who are just bad and that there’s no point in encouraging them because they’re never going to be van Gogh or Picasso or Shakespeare. They’re never going to produce anything that’s truly amazing, that’s valuable enough to end up in museums or be auctioned for millions of dollars. They’re still producing kid-level painting as adults and that’s just embarrassing. Why should we be supporting that?

Here’s what I have to say: You have no idea if what someone is doing now is going to lead to great work. Even art critics don’t know that. They didn’t like van Gogh or Picasso when they were figuring out their style. They laughed at them and thought what they were doing was juvenile and that it looked like crap. Because they didn’t follow the rules and they didn’t look like successes.

The truth is, we’re all afraid. Writers, nonwriters, every kind of creative person is afraid of doing their thing. They’re afraid they aren’t good enough. They’re afraid someone will criticize them. They’re afraid that they’ll be made fun of. They’re afraid of someone hating their book. They’re afraid that people will somehow be able to read into their most vulnerable spots through a book and hurt them that way.

There’s no way around this pain. It’s not going to go away by doing some kind of therapy. If you’re waiting to stop being afraid, you’re never going to write. And I personally think that would be a terrible thing because this world needs your story. Someone out there is waiting to read what you have to say to give them the courage to own their own experience. I promise you, that is true. But it can only happen if you fight through the pain and get it down.

All the things you’re afraid of are real. People are going to hate what you do. You’re never going to feel good enough. People are going to see the real, naked you through your work and they are going to say the most abominable things.

And you have to write anyway. You have to create anyway.

I’m as afraid as you are. Every day I wake up afraid of what I have to do that day to do the work I need to do, for myself and for others. And that’s why I write these essays. You think I’m writing them for the rest of you, but I’m not. I’m writing them for me because I’m terrified and I need someone to tell me that it’s OK to be afraid and to just keep writing anyway.

You’re going to fail. You’re going to be laughed at. You’re going to have to do a lot of fixing of a lot of things. It’s going to be harder work than you can possibly imagine right now, full of fear as you are.

And you do it anyway. That’s what a writer does. That’s how we create books. We stare down the fear and we write anyway.

It’s so easy to learn caution when you’ve failed a few times. You stand up on that cliff and think to yourself that you know what happens when you fall. You know how long it takes for you to recover, for the wounds to heal, for you to get back to the top again and be ready to try to fly. And so you might be tempted to look for a smaller fall, for a lesser chance at failure. You might look down and see a cliff that isn’t so sheer or so high, where there aren’t rocks below and where you can see the cushioning that will catch you if you fall.

Don’t step down.

Don’t let your fear overcome your dreams.

Don’t go for the easy successes, because you may become used to not looking down from that height.

Don’t stop trying to fly.


I know you are afraid of the pain again. I know you think it isn’t worth it when you’ve failed so many times and you’re sure you’re going to fail again. I know you think you don’t even deserve to dream so big anymore.

You do.

Dream big. Always dream big. Always take the big chances. Always.

If you feel like you've given everything you have to give, give just one more time. You have more inside of you than you ever imagined.

If you feel like you've come to the end of the road, take one more step of faith.

If you've been slapped down just one time too many, stand up and stand tall and demand more.

If you want more and you've always wanted more and you're tired of asking and working and begging, make something new and angry and true.

If life is unfair and you're always on the receiving end, find someone else in the same situation and try to laugh about it.

If it's time to try something else, try something impossible. Aim big. Fail big.

If you feel alone, reach out for a hug. There are so many people who are with you.

If life feels useless and you feel worthless, take a breath and then another one. It won't always be like this.

If no one sees you, try seeing someone else and giving them what you need to be given.

If you've lost faith in yourself and your work, remember that others haven't. They are cheering you on silently.

I know a lot of writers are dealing with fear. And plenty of people who want to be writers are dealing with fear so intense that they never get to the part when they are writing. They’re too afraid to, because writing is so powerful. And because they’re afraid to let people see who they really are through their words. So they never write them down. They never reveal themselves truly. And I think that’s very sad. I’d like to see more people who are able to work around their fear and get their words down.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

Home | My Account / Log Out | Submissions | Index | Contact | About IGMS | Linking to Us | IGMS Store | Forum
        Copyright © 2019 Hatrack River Enterprises   Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com