A friend of mine feels like a failure.
She’s young, incredibly bright and personable, hugely talented. She’s in a graduate program, studying a subject she loves, and she’s surrounded by caring friends and family.
But she hasn’t been published yet.
I don’t know the specific details. She’s not ready to talk about them at the moment. I know she had an agent and was working on revising her manuscript, but I don’t know if the agent backed out, or the manuscript didn’t sell, or something else. All I know is, right now, she feels like a failure.
When she told me that, my first impulse was to try to talk her out of it. But as a parent, I’ve learned that you shouldn’t try to talk people out of their feelings. That’s a parental impulse, guided by the desire to protect one’s children from bad things in life (or to not have to deal with them oneself). When children are sad, or angry, or feel like failures, you should affirm that feeling and let them talk about it if they want to, give them a hug if they’ll let you. We can’t go around trying to pretend bad feelings don’t exist or aren’t valid or must be avoided.
So let’s talk. (I’m not able to give you a hug right now, sorry.) Let’s talk about feeling like a failure as a writer.
I felt that way for, oh, the first forty-eight years of my life (or at least the part of it I remember). That’s because I didn’t publish my first novel until I was forty-nine.
I had an offer from an agent when I was in my twenties, but she turned out to be a shyster. I had a few short stories published, mostly in online magazines, but all of my novel-length manuscripts went nowhere. I parted ways with an agent who told me she loved my manuscript, then turned around and told me it sucked. But it wasn’t until age forty-nine that I was published.
And you know what? Despite that, I still feel like a failure at times.
I feel like a failure when I get bad reviews like this recent one on Amazon: “Boring. No excitement. Waste of time. Hated it.” I feel like a failure when my books don’t make the bestseller list and some of my friends’ books do. I feel like a failure when my agent rejects a new manuscript of mine. I feel like a failure when I hold a signing and no one shows up.
All of these things, and far worse, happen to authors. And when they do happen, the authors in question feel like failures.
Do they feel as much like failures as people who haven’t been published yet? Maybe not. But what are we going to do, start ranking feelings?
I feel terrible for my friend, and for everyone who aspires to authorship but hasn’t gotten there yet. No one deserves to feel like a failure. Everyone, however, does feel that way sometimes.
If you feel that way most or all of the time, or about your whole self instead of just your writer-self, then you need to seek psychiatric help. I’m not being facetious. You might be clinically depressed, and if so, you’re at risk for self-damage.
But if you feel that way from time to time, and mostly about writing instead of about everything, you’re perfectly normal. Go ahead and feel that way. If it helps to talk to others about your feelings, do so. I guarantee they’ve shared them at one time or another. But if you’re not ready to talk, then simply allow yourself to feel the feeling, as much as it hurts to do so.
And if you need someone to give you a hug, don’t hesitate to ask.