The Beauty of Failing (And Trying Again) by Michael Roberts

Failure. That’s pretty much a dirty word when we’re talking about writing challenges, right?

Not at all.

All of us fail from time to time. We might miss a week’s goals, or our stories may not turn out as we had hoped. What then? Do you throw out your entire novel? Do you sit out for the rest of the ROW80 challenge, hoping to “do it right” the next time around?

No way!

Art, in all its varied forms, is an experimental process. Whether you’re trying out a new character in a novel or painting mountainside scenery for the first time, you’re doing something that’s never been done exactly the same way before. Though other writers might have had similar story ideas before, they never approached that story with your worldview and with your talent set. You’re bringing something new into the world with every bit of your writing.

Like any other experiment, it’s not always going to work out perfectly. We’re entirely accustomed to this idea in science. How many times do scientists have to run the experiment to find the correct process? How many “failures” did Edison endure before finding the proper filament for the light bulb?

Instead of scientific tools, we writers bring out our artistic abilities and intuition to improve, to craft a finer tale than the one we had imagined when we began.

But the only way to reach that stage of improvement is to get the words on the page. First, we have to get that first draft out there so that we can observe our progress. Did we “fail” with the first draft? No problem. We can revise a character right out of the story, or add one, as needed.

Writing Challenges and Measuring Failure

I’m especially excited about the ROW80 challenge because of the way that we can so easily recover from any missed goals along the way. Instead of facing one large, all-or-nothing challenge, we can set our own pace and recover as needed. Life happens, and it can be awfully disruptive to our creative pursuits, at times.

Looking at it from another perspective, if we’re inflexible with our goals and our writing, then we’re missing out on living, too. Your friends and family may or may not understand your love of the writing craft, but they care about you. If we put our writing first at the cost of our loved ones, have we really succeeded? How do we measure failure then? (After all, relationships are rich with inspirational tidbits for writing.)

Failure, as frustrating and painful as it can be, is a wonderful gut-check on what matters most in life. Is the story worth fixing? Then get to it. Is it worth it to catch up on your goals? Go for it. Is your writing worth disrupting your health and your relationships over? Hmm… you might want to think about that one.

Don’t lose hope when failure comes. Look for the opportunity to grow, knowing that every writer who has ever lived has had to overcome setbacks in order to accomplish anything worthwhile.


Michael Roberts



  1. “If we put our writing first at the cost of our loved ones, have we really succeeded?” I love this phrase in your post. We have to put our friends and family first, or we’re going to be miserable writers. We need to learn to work our writing around life, not the other way around.

    I love this post. Thanks for sharing, Michael!

    1. See, for me, it’s the opposite. Because I’m forced to put everyone else first and my own goals and such last and it makes me angry. I’d like them to take care of their own crap themselves and give me the gift of time to do my own stuff.

      1. The problem may be that you’re “forced” to put everyone first. It sounds like putting other people first in your world involves catering to people that should be able to do for themselves. That’s different than, say, helping someone who REALLY needs you. Or spending time with friends or family sometimes for a day off. I really do get what you mean. I’m lucky that I don’t have too many people who need me constantly for this or that. But sometimes I feel guilty when my mom says “I better let you go if you’re writing. I don’t want to break your train of thought.” Oh the guilt!

        1. I’d be ecstatic if it occurred to my mother that she’s interrupting my limited writing time because she’s BORED and just wants to talk and have me entertain her. Because it never does. I just shouldn’t answer the phone. In general I think it mostly pisses me off that I am the organizer of everyone’s universe (by necessity) and no one puts ME first.

            1. It is awesome to be part of a writing community that can respond. I’m also very fortunate to have a wife that’s very helpful with my goals.

              It also doesn’t hurt that my writing time is normally when everyone else is asleep – either extra early or extra late. With young kids, it’s the only system I’ve found to work.

              That being said, thank you, Kate, for all the work you’re doing with this site and community. I’ve definitely enjoyed being a part of it, and I know it’s no small task to put something like this together!

          1. And don’t you still have children at home who also demand your time and attention, Kait? (Really, every time I think of how much you manage to get done in a day, I’m in awe.)

            The sad truth is though, most people don’t put others first because they don’t know how… because they’re oblivious… or because, worse, they feel they deserve your attention. Mothers are particularly hard that way. I know my own feels that I owe her my full attention, when she’s in the mood to talk that is…. I’m her daughter, after all, and she spent years denying herself for me, so now it’s my turn to pay her back…..

            I’m sorry you go through that, Kait. But rest assured, you are appreciated, not just for the ROW80, but because you are a talented writer, a creative person, a lover of dosgs and art… You’re appreciated because you are you.

            1. Actually no, I don’t have kids yet. Though it often feels like I have a bunch of adults who act like children in my life, which makes me in no particular hurry to have actual ones…

  2. Oh, I’ve put everything and everyone in the world before me all my life. I’ve made a doormat of myself, but at times there was no other choice. I still find this to be a juggling act. Then, there are those times when, once everyone else is taken care of, I sit down to write and am just too brain-dead to do it.

    Great post.

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