Failure is only a word

Frustrated by rejection, new authors can feel like failures. Their feelings of impatience, even anxiety, can lead to bad career decisions. Or to even give up on their dream.

Failure is only a word
photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via photopin cc

Frustrated newcomers can begin to do silly things to get the attention of publishing pros. A friend who edits romances for a major paperback publisher told me how at one conference an overeager author followed her into the ladies room—right into an empty stall—in order to pitch her manuscript. Did it work? No way!

Typically, authors express their anxiety in more subtle ways.

What is this anxiety really about? It can be experienced as the desperate feeling that no one in book publishing cares a damn about you or your manuscript. One can feel it as anger over slush piles (stacks of unrequested, waiting-to-be-read manuscripts), fury over long response times, frustration with uncaring editors or agents—one can even begin to resent the success of others. What began as bliss can turn to utter misery.

I would like to suggest that these overt signs of anxiety actually mask fears of a more fundamental sort. One is the fear of failure, the terrifying possibility that one has wasted years of one’s life. A second is the fear of humiliation—so many expectations to fulfill!
Especially one’s own!

Most fundamental of all, I believe, is the anxiety that derives from the need for validation. Above all things, writers want acceptance. They long to be judged worthy of publication. They want to be assured that they are not crazy. They need to know that all this time and effort have not been for nothing. If the breaking-in period becomes too lengthy or too frustrating, most writers will sooner or later get desperate. Some will start to avoid the whole process, refusing to push themselves. Others will keep at it doggedly but cynically, losing all excitement and hope.

That is too bad, because that kind of burnout can lead to ill-considered career decisions. And, these days, there is little room for error in the big, bad world of book publishing.

Donald Maass. The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success

James, a single, 31-year-old Caucasian male, is an aspiring actor and screenwriter…It became clear during the initial treatment sessions that it was his dissatisfaction with the current state of his life that was most distressing for James. He was frustrated with the lack of progress in his career and was struggling with thoughts of not having accomplished enough to this point in his life and fears of being a “failure.”

Through a series of direct experiential exercises in session, James gradually became less emotionally reactive to the word “failure.” For example, when presented with the word “failure” written on a flash card, James reported wanting to rip up the card and throw it in the trash. The therapist then asked James whether he was willing to put the card in his lap, simply read it, let it be, and have the card touch him as a thought. James agreed and was surprised to notice that he could do this without getting tangled up in what the card says. He was also willing to take the card with him over the next week everywhere he went. In addition, James and his therapist did an exercise in which they rapidly repeated the word “failure” for approximately 30 seconds while observing what happens to the quality of the word when doing so. James reported that after saying the word repeatedly “failure” was reduced to merely a string of almost unrecognizable sounds and he could see that it was ultimately just a word.

Exercises such as this helped James to become a better observer of his own thinking and he learned that he does not have to take his thoughts, even historically difficult thoughts, so seriously and do what they say. For example, during the course of treatment James completed his screenplay and put together a team of actors to present his screenplay to an audience for the very first time, despite experiencing occasional thoughts of failing throughout the process.

Georg H. Eifert, John P. Forsyth, Joanna Arch, Emmanuel Espejo, Melody Keller, and David Langer. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Three Case Studies Exemplifying a Unified Treatment Protocol.

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