Our Mission Statement:

The mission of Pens & Pages Writers Guild is to facilitate and encourage writers of all genres, to share resources and tips about the writing process and, most of all, to provide a positive and productive forum that will encourage and support each writer in his or her creative endeavors.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Failure as Opportunity

I was reading an old Readers Digest article a few weeks ago, about how a flexible mindset helps you bounce back from failures. And of course I was tying it into writing, because that's what I do.

Basically, it says people have one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. Fixed mindsets are grounded in the belief that talent is inborn, and that as such, a person is entitled to sucess without much effort. Failure leads a fixed-mindset person to blame, withdraw, and even avoid future challenge and risk. A growth mindset assumes that no talent is entirely inborn, and that effort and learning make everything possible. The growth mindset sees failure as an opportunity.

Opportunity for what? Opportunity to learn. Thomas Edison is famous for his growth mindset (oh, you thought he was famous for inventing the lightbulb?). One of his frequently trotted-out quotes is "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." That perfectly illustrates the growth mindset. Failure isn't a disgrace, it's just a chance to figure out what went wrong and do better next time.

Often it's hard to escape the fixed mindset. It's HARD to think of failure as a good thing, it's HARD to examine our own failings critically, when all we want to do is crawl into a hole and lick our wounds.

In writing, the classic example of this is rejection slips. Many writing books advise that the writer needs to look forward to rejection slips as an opportunity to learn. If you don't, it can be too depressing to go out there and try again, sending your work off to another market to be rejected.

I don't think any of us can do this perfectly. Sometimes I let failure get the best of me. Last year I got back my entry to the Frontiers in Writing Contest and didn't do as well as I'd hoped. The judges comments stung, even though they pointed out things that subconsciously I knew were off, and just hoped no one else would notice. I put the judge's comments away after reading them once, and went off to lick my wounds, abandoning that novel's revisions.

I still don't think I'll work on that novel again. I really do think it has flaws too big to be worth dealing with. It was a learning experience in many ways, though. But this year, before I sent out the first pages and synopsis of my second novel to the Frontiers in Writing contest, I went back over the judge's comments from last year. Lo and behold, there was useful information there, information that helped me craft a better synopsis.

So sometimes, I guess what I'm saying is, even the failure to deal with failure well can be looked at with a growth mindset. It's never too late.