Failure–The Key Ingredient to the Successful Writing Career

Today, we are going to talk a bit about failure. All writers who dare to dream seem to have this same fear–FAILURE. It can seem larger than life and everything fades away in the face of this looming beast. I want to let you in on a little secret. For many years I was the best, the Big Kahuna, the Big Gal on Campus. I was positively THE most successful person…at failing.

A little about me…

I was a high school drop out at the age of 15, then again at 16. I worked as a waitress, but, to tell the truth, I was a really bad waitress. I lost my job and returned to school. I finally graduated high school at the age of 19. No one figured I would make much out of my life since it’s highly likely I graduated last in my class. I think by the time you get a GPA as low as mine was, I think they just start listing you alphabetically.

I came from a military family, so I decided to enlist in the Army…only I got sick in the middle of the physical and failed. Doc gave me a medical disqualification (DQ).

Great.

So, I dusted myself off and attended junior college. I figured I’d go to school and try the Navy. I come from a family of Squids, so that wasn’t so bad. I put in all my paperwork…then they found out about the Army. Sigh. Apparently a medical DQ lasted two years.

No Navy for me.

Back to the drawing board (school). I knew the medical DQ would run out, so I worked really hard and ended up winning a full military scholarship to become a doctor. I didn’t really want to become a doctor, but this was the best scholarship and I was broke, ergo not picky. I transferred to T.C.U. and began pre-med. I swore in to the Air Force (yes, I made my rounds of all the branches) and pledged my life to serving my country as a future military doctor.

Two years in, I was a shining scholar with a 3.79 average. Then, in March of 1995, Fort Worth was hit with an ice storm and T.C.U. refused to cancel classes. On my way to class, I slipped and fell and hit my lower back on a concrete curb…and fractured it.

Bye, bye military. Bye-bye scholarship. Bye-bye medical school.

I returned to school a semester later. I had to use a cane for eight months as my back healed, and there was no such thing as handicapped access to anything in those days. It seemed every class I had signed up for was on the third floor, too. But I did my best and took it one class at a time.

I didn’t want to be a doctor if the DoD wasn’t picking up the tab. Didn’t have the money. So I changed majors because I could no longer afford to be on a medical track. This was all well and good except that it set me back. Instead of being a junior, I was back to being a sophomore.

Felt a little like high school.

But, I had changed degrees and really loved political economy. I studied the Middle East and North Africa and felt I could make a difference. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to help with a business development project in Syria. I would live in the Yarmouk Camp (a refugee camp in Syria) and help modernize a paper facility.

Well, that was the plan at least.

The day after graduation I hopped on a plane. I was full of hope, dreams and passion, and just knew I would make a difference. I would knock this project out of the park and it would look SO awesome on my grad school application (I was applying for a special doctorate program).

Yeah….um, no.

It was a great experience but pretty much a huge failure. No matter what we tried, we hit a wall of bureaucratic red tape and corruption. I came back to the States and gave up on grad school. The hallowed halls of academia were too far removed from reality, and I realized it was no longer for me.

I went to work in software sales and then paper sales and was dismal at both. I was a hard worker. I worked harder than anyone else, but it always seemed that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the competition was eating me alive. Thus, it was only a matter of time before my position—and me—would be eliminated.

I failed at high school, failed at the military, failed to become a doctor or a professor and now I was quite possibly THE worst salesperson on the planet.

…and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it.

My failures taught me far more than success ever did. Many of you reading this are terrified of failure. I want to let you in on a little secret–Failure is not the end. Failure is a teacher. It will guide you to who you should be. Too often we give failure too much power. We think it is the end, when in reality it is training us for a better future. What if I HAD been successful? What if I was now a military flight surgeon? I wouldn’t be doing what I love and I wouldn’t be here to help you guys, to let you know it isn’t as bad as you might think.

If we aren’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting.

Failing in school taught me to keep pressing on, even when that meant being embarassed. It was humiliating being a 19 year-old in an English class full of 14 year-olds.

Failing at the military taught me that some doors shut for very good reasons. Sometimes our prayers are answered, it’s just the answer happens to be “no.”

Failing in Syria taught me discernment. I jumped into a project before I thought it out fully. I wouldn’t trade the experience for all the gold in the world, but the project was doomed from the start. I should have done more research and planned better. But it prepared me for a future that I never could have envisioned at the time (for those who are curious, read this post Amazon–Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts).

Failing at sales taught me that trying to do everything myself was a formula for disaster. It taught me to form teams and that relationships are the most important possession we have. When I was in sales, I didn’t want to bother other people and I tried to do too much on my own. My failure was the end result of an inability to delegate and form a team I could depend upon.

I now understand that any success I enjoy is not because of ME, because I am anything special. It is because of opportunities, blessings and support granted me from other people.

Our success is only a culmination of a lot of team support. There are no self-made best-sellers.

We can’t do this alone.

Failure is scary, but failure is priceless to the person who can embrace it. Failure should be rewarded because it means we are taking a risk. Show me a person who has never failed, and I will show you a person who’s never tried anything remarkable. Nothing great was ever created in the comfort zone. Sure there are people who seem to succeed at everything they do, but the Midas Touch is not the norm (and most of us find those people annoying, anyway). I don’t know about you, but I want to learn from great people who failed yet pressed on and succeeded despite setbacks. I want to learn about creating wealth from Donald Trump, not the latest lottery winner.

Many of you who read my blogs want to be successful writers. If I can give you any advice, it is to learn to embrace failure. When we are in the middle of the storm, it is hard to see the bigger picture. It is tough to see how these setbacks and disappointment might actually be shaping a more brilliant future than we can ever imagine.

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a famous writer and teacher, but I was told that was a foolish dream. So I traded in that dream for more practical dreams—a military career, becoming a doctor, sales. And you know what? I thank God every day that I failed at everything I ever tried because eventually I failed so much I no longer feared it, and THAT is when success started coming my way.

I took bigger and bigger risks and was more willing to throw my heart and all my passions into something because I finally understood failure never meant the end…it just meant the beginning of something new and I would be stronger for it.

The strongest blades are forged in the hottest fires. Adversity is the fire that removes the impurities in our character. Failure is the forge that creates excellence. One of the strongest forms of steel in the world is Damascus steel. Damascus steel is fired, folded and hammered hundreds of times, and it is this fiery brutal birth that makes it so strong. What about you? Are you a failure, or are you on your way to being Damascus steel?

Fifteen years ago, I had the talent to do great things and reach great heights, but I didn’t have the character to stay there. Failure taught me to work hard, set goals and, above all, remain humble and value people. Failure created the person who could dream up a global community of service and support like MyWANA. YOU guys are my most valuable possession. You guys are my team and my support and I cannot reach my dreams without your help. It is my honor and privilege to keep your company, to hear your voice and to learn from you. If I can offer anything in return, it is my support and lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of doing just about everything wrong.

Failure is our friend. We all start out a hunk of metal, just like the Damascus steel blade. Adveristy and failure fire out the impurities and strengthen our character and resolve. Failure might sting now, but if you could see the bigger picture, I imagine you would dance for joy as well.

What are some challenges you guys have faced? What did you learn? Are you facing something now and feel as if you are losing your nerve? What lessons do you think you can take away?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Thanks for being patient with me announcing winners. 

Winner of Last Week of February’s 5-Page Critique–Stephanie Scott. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Winner of Last Month’s Critique (February) of 15 pages–Mollie Player. Please send your 3250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Winner of Last Week’s (first of March) 5 Page Critique is Yvette Carol. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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  1. #1 by Paws To Talk on March 5, 2012 - 11:40 am

    Excellent advice!
    Bella and DiDi

  2. #2 by August McLaughlin on March 5, 2012 - 11:40 am

    I don’t believe in failure—one exception: math tests—which makes not fearing it easy. If I were to define it, though, I’d say failure means giving up.

    I imagine that seeing it as part of the package can also ease anxiety and increase our odds of success… Great post, Kristen!

  3. #3 by Julie Musil on March 5, 2012 - 11:45 am

    *stands and cheers*

    This post gave me chills–I kid you not. I’m often afraid of failure, but you’re so right, failure keeps us humble and makes us stronger. Thanks so much for the awesome inspiration.

  4. #4 by Debra Kristi on March 5, 2012 - 11:52 am

    I agree. Had I succeeded in any of my previous ventures with enough fulfillment to stay, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Where I am is where I want and need to be. For me, this is meant to be.

  5. #5 by nadinefeldman on March 5, 2012 - 11:53 am

    As I look back on my life, the “failures” always ended up working out. I remember my first love and subsequent broken heart — then saw the young man ten years later, ruined by alcohol and overeating, and he looked like Santa Claus. I thought I had “failed” in love, but I hadn’t.

    Years later, I “failed” in my attempts to have children. Who knew that one day I would end up a stepmom to two kids who needed all I could give them?

    I’ve heard other writers describe themselves as “failed” writers, and this distresses me. While I haven’t had financial success as a writer, my life is better because I write. Sure, I’d like to sell more books, and maybe that will happen if I persist, but more than anything, I am a happier person. To me, that’s success.

    These days, I figure that the only failure is in not trying. I like to do the things that scare me so I can grow and learn, even if the outcome isn’t exactly what I would like. It means a certain amount of disappointment, fear, and pain — but also better self-esteem and inner strength.

  6. #6 by Vicki Moss on March 5, 2012 - 11:53 am

    Hi Kristen,

    Seems like I’ve read the post by you before, maybe on your web site? It’s a great post
    and took courage to even write it – most would never admit they’d ever failed at anything.

    Since you’re from a military family, have you ever lived in the South? If so, I’d love to interview you for Southern Writers Magazine. All Best, ~Vicki H. Moss

    • #7 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 5, 2012 - 11:56 am

      I have told this story before and I love the analogy of the Damascus steel. I use this any time I teach about failure because it is just such a great analogy. I didn’t write on craft today because I willed myself to rest over the weekend after the fiasco with Spawn. So will be working on some new craft lessons later today. Thanks!

  7. #8 by sillykhan on March 5, 2012 - 11:54 am

    You gave me hope when I read this. Look at yourself. You worked hard in every job you did. Failure is not bad word and Failure is a lesson to be learn. We have learn our mistake from the past. But we still have to look in the bright side of life. Keep up with your writing and I am big fan of your blog. I love reading your blog. You can’t fail this time. :) You are a winner!!!

    • #9 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 5, 2012 - 11:57 am

      Thanks, but it sure took a lot of doing the wrong stuff to get to the right stuff, for sure!

  8. #10 by Cindy Sample on March 5, 2012 - 11:56 am

    We have a saying in our family. Never let a lack of ability stand in the way of success. And there’s nothing like adversity to help you become a stronger and better person. It saddens me when I meet someone with a dream who is too afraid of failure or rejection to take that first step on his or her journey. Every “failure” is a learning experience which has helped me to grow. Not to mention that my “failures” make the best stories! I loved this post. Off to share with others.

  9. #11 by Leanne Shirtliffe on March 5, 2012 - 11:56 am

    I love this lesson, Kristen. It’s one I struggle to impart to my daughter, who seems bent on being a perfectionist (albeit one who works her little off butt to get there). I frequently use the analogy of learning to walk. Babies learn to walk by falling. If they gave up after one failure, they’d still be bum-scooting.

    Sometimes it’s me who needs to heed this lesson. Thanks for the Monday morning reminder.

    Leanne

  10. #12 by Doug Page on March 5, 2012 - 11:58 am

    Kristen,

    Good writing and thanks for sharing. You are strong.

    Doug

  11. #13 by Cauley Bennett on March 5, 2012 - 11:59 am

    Wow, Kirsten, Your essay today made me cry, so much like my life, and then I laughed a lot when you got to the part about — finally — doing something wonderful, through teams. I took your Branding class and loved it. As soon as my blog is up, the one you helped create while taking the class– I’ll link to you — for sure! Thank you!!!
    Cauley Bennett

  12. #14 by Sara on March 5, 2012 - 12:02 pm

    Thank you – this post was exactly what I needed today

  13. #15 by Elizabeth Fais on March 5, 2012 - 12:04 pm

    Kristen, THANK YOU for this! And you couldn’t be more right. Walt Disney went bankrupt early in his career and said that that failure was a great experience. I’m about to query agents with a novel I’ve worked hard on for the last 3 years (had it critiqued at conferences, rewrote it, the works), and fear of failure was staring me in the face. This is just what I needed to hear! I’ll send that puppy out and start on the next story, and then the next. I LOVE what Abraham Lincoln said: Always bear in mind that your resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.

  14. #16 by Nicole Galloway-Miller on March 5, 2012 - 12:22 pm

    Great inspiring article! I needed a pick me up today, and you brought a smile to my face. I have always believed that misery exists so we can truly enjoy happiness. The same holds true for failure. Failure beats us down and teaches us, but it also makes success taste so much sweeter! Thanks for sharing!

  15. #17 by Debra Burroughs on March 5, 2012 - 12:23 pm

    I think it was Zig Ziglar who said that our lives are not measured by how many times we fall down, but by how many times we get back up. If you are trying to accomplish great things, you are going to fail sometimes. When your child is learning to walk, don’t we encourage them to keep getting back up each time they fall down? Pretty soon they are off and running!

    When I published my first book I thought I would set the publishing world on fire. Now that I have just published my third, I look back and see how wrong I was then, but also how far I have come, how much I have learned and much my writing has improved. I’m working on my 4th book now and it will be the best one yet!

    Thanks for the encouraging post, Kristen.

  16. #18 by Rebekah Loper on March 5, 2012 - 12:24 pm

    This post is so encouraging – I’m glad I’m not the only one with a crazy life. I’ve tried going to college (finished 18 hours, would still love to go back, but am not attached to the idea of having a degree), tried starting my own sewing business (I definitely like sewing as a hobby better, but loved the experience of getting to make a replica of a LOTR costume and get paid for it, hehe), and the only thing that has gone successfully is getting married (thank God!).

    For me, it’s been learning that having setbacks in the form of endless family emergencies doesn’t make me a failure. I’m slowly starting to get a handle on my writing so that even when the world does end three times in a week and I have to pick up the pieces of my mother and grandmother and put them back together, I can still get my writing done.

    Writing is the only thing I can do in both the ups and downs of life and not get burned out. That must mean that I should stick with it!

  17. #19 by Emmie Mears on March 5, 2012 - 12:24 pm

    Awesome post, Kristen. I think that it often ends up being our setbacks that create our character and add to our personality more than our successes. You can ask Stephen King how awesome it is to get seven figure advances, but what makes him more fascinating is the rag mag he produced with his brother as a kid and how it was his first banned book — and the spike full of rejections he gathered before he started getting paid a living to write. His job as a teacher and and all the myriad of other things he did before Carrie happened.

    I appreciate you sharing these things about yourself and your past. :) Thank you for a meaningful and affecting post!

  18. #20 by Cora Ramos on March 5, 2012 - 12:25 pm

    Failure for me is simply the elimination of things that weren’t right for us. We eliminate until we find our true selves and what we should be doing. I always envied those people that knew what they wanted to do at an early age. But, as I’ve grown older, and look back, I relish the experiences that taught me who I am. Maybe getting to the end goal as a result of these eliminations is more fulfilling than a direct path.

  19. #21 by Anne R. Allen on March 5, 2012 - 12:28 pm

    What an amazing story, Kristen! I like to call my failures “adventures”, and I sure have had my share, but I don’t know if I’ve been quite so brave as you in adventuring. This is so inspiring! You should also be inspired by my post this week, where I explain why reading Kristen Lamb’s blog is better than getting an MFA. You’re a poster child for success now!

    • #22 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 5, 2012 - 12:39 pm

      Whoo hoo! I will have to get over there. With all the Spawn Drama last week I missed out on reading all my fave blogs!

  20. #23 by veehcirra on March 5, 2012 - 12:29 pm

    Hi Kristen,

    We are so conditioned to see failure as the worst thing that could happen to us.

    Accepting failure and learning from it, does take a lot of courage. You are very brave to admit your failures.Sometimes, the pain of failure blinds us from seeing the bigger picture…seeing why things are actually happening as they are.

    Negative deja vu’s i.e failures in my life are always a wake up call that there is something I need to change. Life is funny, we always get what we deserve at different stages in life and only move to a higher level when we are ready.

    This you show clearly when you say, “I thank God every day that I failed at everything I ever tried because eventually I failed so much I no longer feared it, and THAT is when success started coming my way.”

    Thank you so much for this inspiring message.

    Veeh

  21. #24 by Deborah Serravalle on March 5, 2012 - 12:32 pm

    Thanks! This post was affirming. Believe it or not, I received this message in another format earlier today. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  22. #25 by Lissa Matthews on March 5, 2012 - 12:55 pm

    I kind of needed this today. My latest book has received more 2-star reviews from readers who are disappointed in the story than I ever imagined. Talk about feeling like a failure. Failure with my readers. Failure with my craft. Failure with fellow authors. Failure with time and effort and… It sucks to feel this way, to read the words ‘I’m so disappointed’. Authors are always talking about the amazing, awesome reactions and we don’t often talk of the really hard, bad ones. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating. It’s from these bad ones though that I learn the most. They hurt like hell and I will admit they make me want to quit and go apply for a job at Starbucks when I first read them, but after a while, I start to see the merit and I start to work again. Failure is a process and yes, when it’s all always only good stuff and success, you rarely learn because you rarely try something new. You just keep doing what you do because it’s working right now. What happens though if it stops working? If all you’ve had is success, how will you handle the failure? I’m grateful, grudgingly so at times for those feelings of failure and those badges of failure. I read somewhere one time that if you don’t have a drawer full of rejections or if you don’t have more bad reviews than good, then you’re not doing something right. Maybe there really is some merit in that.

    Thanks, Kristen for another great post.

    • #26 by Molly Field on March 6, 2012 - 10:59 pm

      Lissa, I read somewhere that Dr. Seuss was rejected 78 times before he was published. I saw that you used “humiliating” and I want you to know I’m proud of you. I don’t know you. I’ll look for what you’ve written in a moment, but I’m proud of you for writing and publishing and putting yourself out there. Instead of “humiliating” I propose: “humbling.” They sound the same but they mean different things. You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. If you robbed a bank and stole a baby too, that would be shameful. Writing a book and people criticize it? This can be a humbling experience where you learn from it. The world can be a cold place and the anonymity of the Internet makes it even colder and harsher. You started a book and you published it. That’s more than MANY people (me) have ever done.

    • #27 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 7, 2012 - 8:51 am

      Failure can be a great teacher. I am thankful that it wasn’t so easy to publish when I wrote my first novel. They are now using in in Guantanamo Bay to break terrorists–PLEASE!!! I will tell you where the bomb is but not another page of that BOOOOOOKKKK!!!!

      I took it to a critique group and got SLAUGHTERED. But I got back to work, read every craft book I could find, took a job as a copy editor and did everything to learn and improve and now I am a very strong writer.

      You didn’t fail. It took a lot of courage to put yourself out there knowing the outcome just as easily could be bad. There are a lot of writers who would have left the manuscript n a drawer and never tried. So cry, have some brownies and grieve. It is okay. Then sleep, get rested and try again. I guarantee you you won’t make any of those mistakes again, right?

      I still keep a copy of my first novel around to keep me humble. It’s in the garage. I can hear it at night sometimes…clawing at the door. *shivers*

      Best of luck and just keep truckin’. People have short memories these days and friends will always give you a second chance and those reviews will redeem you.

  23. #28 by Shawn MacKENZIE on March 5, 2012 - 12:55 pm

    Wise words, Kristen. I look back on my many faliures and treasure them for the lessons they taught, the oppotunities they presented. They have made me the person I am today and I would exchange not a one.

  24. #29 by kristin nador on March 5, 2012 - 12:59 pm

    Excellent post, Kristen! I was amazed when I read your post as the blog post I wrote for today was also about failure – learning to fail with grace. Your story is the epitome of graceful failure. What a strong woman and an inspiration you are! I don’t believe in coincidence, this subject must be something the universe is wanting me to focus on. Thanks for your example. :)

  25. #30 by Mandy Allen (@LandofMandy) on March 5, 2012 - 1:04 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of failure, but it seemed whenever one of my life plans failed, I’d mourn its passing forever. Instead of reevaluating and changing directions, I’d dwell on what could have been. Then I read this quote,

    “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Joseph Campbell

    So, now instead of focusing on the failed attempt, I focus on the new opportunity it presents. Great post Kristen! Thank you for you thoughtful and inspiring advice!

  26. #31 by Jenny Hansen on March 5, 2012 - 1:04 pm

    This is such an important lesson for all of us to heed, Kristen. It took almost dying for me to get over myself a bit.

    My favorite line: “I had the talent to do great things and reach great heights, but I didn’t have the character to stay there.”

    Isn’t that always the way it works?? Love this post…you can re-run it as often as you want. :-) Hope the little man is feeling better…

  27. #32 by Monique on March 5, 2012 - 1:27 pm

    Such an impacting way to describe something gut-wrenching and eventually numbing (if your lucky I suppose). Love this post and I’m looking forward to tomorrows!

  28. #33 by granbee on March 5, 2012 - 1:30 pm

    You are SO very correct: not failing ever indicates you have never really tried anything! Reminds me of the old saying,”If no bullets are whizzing past your head, then you haven’t ever gotten out of the trenches.”

  29. #34 by Julia Tomiak on March 5, 2012 - 1:48 pm

    I have tried to explain this to my perfectionist son, and I’ve realized I share his fear of failing (his perfectionism comes genetically.) As I recite the words of the great Michael Jordan to my sports-loving-child, (“I have failed over and over again; that is why I succeed”), I realize I need them just as much as he does. Thanks for the pep talk, and for sharing your own failures to help build the rest of us up- that takes guts. Well done!

  30. #35 by Christie Wild on March 5, 2012 - 2:00 pm

    If I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) in 2 hours and 53 minutes instead of my goal time of 2:50, did I fail?

    I got my K-6 teaching certification in 2007, and STILL don’t have a classroom to call my own. I often feel like a failure when it comes to being a teacher, even though I have had several small temporary positions teaching in different schools, grades, and subjects. It took me 6 and a half YEARS to get that certification and I wanted a permanent job as a classroom teacher SO bad, but fate never smiled on me. In the mean time, though I did not feel comfortable calling myself a teacher even though I was certified, I became more and more comfortable calling myself a writer even though I’m not published. I feel like my first BA degree (literature and creative writing) merged with my teaching “degree” and created who/what I am/do now: a picture book writer.

    So, yeah, failure is good. Thanks for reaffirming to me that it brings about the beginning of bigger and better things.

  31. #36 by Ria on March 5, 2012 - 2:02 pm

    Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb among other things, was considered a failure by his teachers and so he was home-schooled by his mom. He failed countless times before he finally succeeded in inventing the bulb that lit up our lives forever.

    Thank you for this post. Being a writer I have faced failure enough times to understand how great a teacher it is.

  32. #37 by John Hayden on March 5, 2012 - 2:07 pm

    Kristen, You have a great start on a wonderful memoir there. Maybe it will be No. 1 on Amazon.

    My contribution: The first major purchase of my life was a used Royal typewriter for $99 in 1965 (a standard typewriter, not electric) so I could learn to type and be a newsman. I was always a journeyman, never a master, in a modern, Darwinian newspaper business that wants STARS. Newspapers are the incredible shrinking industry, so I took my leave of a top metro daily in 2002. 1965-2002 was a good long time. Leaving seemed like a good idea. Ten years later, 2012, newspapers are all but dead.

    Thought I’d catch on at something in a year or two. Real estate seemed like a good idea. Sold 5 houses, but the expenses eat you alive. Only a few succeed there. Ran for the state legislature. Twice! Running for low-level political offices is like applying for a job. But instead of 500 resumes for every job opening in business, there’s usually a handful of applicants for thankless political jobs. I would have been good at it, too. Or at least, honest. Lost. Twice. Seemed like a good idea. It gets worse from there.

    Now comes this new thing called eBooks . . . I can touch type . . . been typing 45 years . . . I was born to type . . . Born to write . . . Fiction . . . ???

  33. #38 by colonialist on March 5, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    One needs character to learn from failure, though. If it becomes such a habit that one expects it, then that’s what one will continue to receive, not so?

  34. #39 by Jessica O'Neal on March 5, 2012 - 2:23 pm

    Thank you for this post, Kristen. Fear of failure is definitely something that afflicts and, sometimes, cripples me. I have a string of mistakes that follow me around because of it. Most of them I don’t regret, they led me to where I am today, but some I do. When we choose to pursue something like writing, something that relies so heavily on chance beyond our control (I HATE not having control), that fear pops up with more frequency and urgency. I try to remind myself of all the things that you have said in your post, but sometimes we need to hear it from someone else for it to sink in. Time to brush off last week’s fear (which, ironically, is what leads to the failure most of the time) and begin anew. A new week with new goals and new hope.

  35. #40 by Ryder Islington on March 5, 2012 - 3:10 pm

    I love your post.

    I once worked at a factory building military weapons. A lot of co-workers hated me because my output was so much higher than theirs. They hated the pressure. Then one day I made a mistake and burnt a part worth thousands of dollars.I felt like a failure. I was terrified of what the consequences might be. I could hardly speak as I told the boss. His response was, “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t working.” And that was that.

    My story is a lot like yours, except that I was told all my life that I “couldn’t.” Didn’t matter what it was. I couldn’t. Then one day someone believed in me. Changed my whole life. Until then I was a failure. After, my world changed. I still made mistakes. But it felt different when someone was on my side. Thanks to a great man, I now believe like you. Failing at something is a learning opportunity. I have failed at many things, but I’m not a failure–just a person in the process of learning!

  36. #41 by Team Oyeniyi on March 5, 2012 - 3:16 pm

    Well, you’ve led an interesting life Kristen! I really liked this article. We live and learn and I agree totally – if you never fail, you aren’t living.

  37. #42 by Peter Spenser on March 5, 2012 - 3:42 pm

    The most important idea in your whole post: “Too often we give failure too much power.”

  38. #43 by tomwisk on March 5, 2012 - 4:05 pm

    Inspirational. Failure is finding out what you’re not good at, at that time. If failure is falling down, it brings you closer to the path and helps you find the right one. The other thing it teaches you is when you fall down get the f#$% up and keep moving. If there was someone to pick you up they would be there. If there’s nobody there pick your own a$$ up and keep moving.

  39. #44 by Karen McFarland on March 5, 2012 - 4:15 pm

    “Adversity is the fire that removes the impurities in our character. Failure is the forge that creates excellence.”

    Perfect analogy Kristen. Fire heats up the metal and separates the impurities as you well know. And what we’re left with is the best!

    Fantastic post! :)

  40. #45 by JMPowers~ Author on March 5, 2012 - 4:23 pm

    The things you went through had me shaking my head, and then smiling. I know you couldn’t always figure out why things went so wrong at first, but you certainly found a way to keep on going. I admire that.
    My life has been hard as well, but everything that’s happened has made me who I am today. A strong woman, a mom of five, a grandma of four, and a published author. I am so much more than I would have been had things been easy.
    I love the analogy of the Damascus steel.
    Thank you for the inspiration!

  41. #46 by Yvette on March 5, 2012 - 4:36 pm

    Kristen darling, God bless you. I found it hard to read this entire post because of the tears blinding me. They started to fall like a tropical rain from the line ‘if you’re not failing you’re not doing anything interesting’. Man that gets me all over again.
    I’m sobbing away as I type….
    I failed at school, had to leave at 16 because I was pregnant, I failed as a teenage mother (makes me cry just to think how hopelessly unprepared I was for the job!), I have been divorced twice (last one came through last year), and am now trying to redeem my epic failures as a mother with my two youngest boys.
    But the way I’ve failed the most is that I’ve been writing stories all my life and have not managed to get one single thing published (apart from my articles in my days as a journalist). I feel my family, my friends looking on as the decades fly past, and I know they’re thinking variations of what my ex-husband said to me, You’re never ever going to get published … why don’t you give it up?

    I look back and I have to say that as much emotion as I have around this, I am glad I wasn’t published as a young person though…because every rejection, every non-reply from competitions entered over the years has made me learn more, try harder, and to evolve my craft to the best of my ability.

    The middle-grade trilogy of books I’m working on now have been my passion and my escape for the last 5 years. Now the first book in the series, probably the thousandth version after being knocked back three times last year alone, ‘The Lost Island’ is out making the rounds again….

    I have only just realized that I have won a spot with you to get my work critiqued!! Wow. I’m awe-struck. I don’t have a great track record of winning things so I’m very surprised. Maybe my track record with publishing will change too! :-) I will send you the first part of ‘The Lost Island’ I think, because book two is very rough still.

    Thank you again Kristen for inspiring me all over again to keep doing what I love to do!
    Yvette Carol

  42. #47 by Debra Eve on March 5, 2012 - 4:50 pm

    “If we are”n’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting.” I’m making this into a poster to put over my computer! Thank you, Kristen!

  43. #48 by Rachel Funk Heller on March 5, 2012 - 4:52 pm

    Kristen, I knew there was another reason why I appreciate you so much, at 16, I too was a waitress and learned one of the most valuable lessons in life how to “serve somebody.” And as writers aren’t we really in a service industry? our job is to create great stories that serve our readers. You are the mega-momma of what it means to be of service to others. Thank you, thank you for this wonderful post and for your continued love and support.

    • #49 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 5, 2012 - 4:59 pm

      :D Someone called me the WANA Mama recently and…I really dig that title. I spent a lot of years only looking out for myself. I wish I was the bright person who learned stuff the easy way. Nope, not me. I am the jackass that has to be hit between the eyes, LOL. But, I am getting quicker at learning every day and you guys make the journey so much more fun.

  44. #50 by sandra tilley on March 5, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    Thanks. I needed that. You’re awesome.

  45. #51 by Melinda VanLone on March 5, 2012 - 5:47 pm

    I’m not sure any of that counts as failing. It reminds me of that quote “I didn’t fail. I found 2,000 ways how NOT to make a light bulb”. Every job I’ve ever had taught me a little bit more about what I did NOT want to be. I’m with you, that’s a lesson. Not a failure. To me the only way to fail is not to try at all.

    FYI, I was a truck stop waitress. I think everyone should be one, at least once. Talk about learning!

    I’m still wincing at the fractured back…ow ow ow.

    • #52 by Yvette on March 5, 2012 - 7:34 pm

      ooh yeah, I forgot to say, that back fracture sounded nasty. All better now?
      Yvette Carol

  46. #53 by Reetta Raitanen on March 5, 2012 - 7:19 pm

    Impressive post and impressive life! It takes guts to get up and try something different and you’ve done it so many times. But now you’re on the right path and are a shining beacon to us all. Thank you.

  47. #54 by Michael Rochelle on March 5, 2012 - 7:25 pm

    What an inspiring post! My greatest love is writing, but I work in accounting and I’m pursuing a master’s degree in business–both the career and the schooling are way outside my natural talent and ability. However, I need to keep the lights on and that’s what keeps me going. Fear of failure is a real fear. Fear of what will happen next is damn near debilitating. However, when I look around and see some of the challenges that others face, it makes me feel as though my minor setbacks really are nothing. The next day is just around the corner, and as long as I wake up, it’s the opportunity for a fresh start!!!

    • #55 by Yvette on March 5, 2012 - 7:37 pm

      As long as i wake up it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Love that! Excellent attitude Michael!!
      Yvette Carol

  48. #56 by Ed on March 5, 2012 - 7:36 pm

    Kristen, you are a shining star in the world of writers. This post was so honest and genuine, and it really touched me. You have my greatest admiration for your willingness to work hard to arrive at where you are today.

    I just experienced a similar feeling on a retreat I helped lead this weekend. What seems like loss to humans can be unimaginable gain in God’s time. Thank you again for being such a wonderful person and mentor. :)

  49. #57 by Peter DeHaan on March 5, 2012 - 7:37 pm

    It could be that I have not failed at too many things or perhaps that I have merely blocked them out. However, I think that in most cases I seen the positive aspect of my failures quite quickly, learning from them and moving on.

    In any event your story is encouraging and inspiring. I am glad that you didn’t give up!

  50. #58 by Ed on March 5, 2012 - 7:38 pm

    By the way, I also just listened to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” Perfect for this post, if you’re interested! ;)

  51. #59 by MaLinda Johnson on March 5, 2012 - 7:54 pm

    I totally agree with you. Sometimes we have to fail at what we don’t really want to do in order to take up what we truly do want to do. I also became a writer after failing at practical jobs.

  52. #60 by Jess Witkins on March 5, 2012 - 8:01 pm

    I don’t think of these trials as failure. You went forward with gumption ready to step up in any of these endeavors. And as you said, when they didn’t work out, it put you on the path of writing! It’s quite the testimony for you to share all that you overcame to get to this point. And everything you went through taught you so much about writing too. You know from personal experience what creates drama and obstacles in a character’s life, and what traits help that character overcome them.

  53. #61 by KM Huber on March 5, 2012 - 8:08 pm

    One of my favorite posts, Kristen–I remember it–needed it today after two days of outstanding failure. While failure does seem to be the way I succeed–I am just too ingenuous even at my age–there is a strength in naivete that helps me with failure. I know that we’re all connected, I believe in “spooky action at a distance”; I view failure just for the experience it is, getting more out of failure just for what it is. However, your post today was a real bonus.

    As always, thanks so much.

    Karen

  54. #62 by Yuvi on March 5, 2012 - 9:06 pm

    I really like this way of looking at failure, Kristen.

    I actually based a whole video series on failure and writing (http://yuvizalkow.com/failedwriter). But in this particular video I talk about how even the feeling of being a failure can be good for the writer… particularly if you can use that feeling to work at it harder…

    FAILING AS A FAILED FAILURE: https://vimeo.com/30774416

  55. #63 by Alicia Street on March 5, 2012 - 10:49 pm

    Bravo! And thank you for this post, WANA-Mama!

  56. #64 by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson on March 5, 2012 - 11:02 pm

    Why am I always late to your parties? Sheesh! I was eating cookies and playing with light sabers. I have a great guest post coming up where someone explains how Failure IS an option. I’ll forward this to her. She’ll love it.

  57. #65 by Matthew Wright on March 5, 2012 - 11:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! It seems to me that a lot depends on how we define ‘failure’. ‘You failed to invent the light bulb, Mr Edison’. ‘No, I have successfully discovered 2000 ways of NOT making it.’ Change the parameters, get ahead. Courage counts too. Always. Picking yourself up and carrying on with a broken back? Courage and determination. Fabulous stuff, inspiring – and thank you again for posting.

    Matthew

  58. #66 by caseykayb on March 6, 2012 - 12:10 am

    I’m meeting more people all the time who aren’t afraid to step out and take those chances without a fear of failing. I have met a comedian with a law degree who now writes children’s cartoons, a hairdresser who bounced around between salons for years before stepping out and buying her own, and a fashion professor who has worked in absolutely every aspect of the industry because her personal motto is, “Why not?” I’m finding that failure only serves to teach you what you don’t want to do, so we should never be afraid of it.

    Great post, Kristen! :-)

  59. #67 by asraidevin on March 6, 2012 - 1:46 am

    There is no such thing as failure, just testing theories that didn’t work out. Or so Edison claimed and he was a pretty successful failure.

    Yes, we should not fear failure, we should fear inaction for sure.

    Love it.

  60. #68 by Noree Cosper on March 6, 2012 - 5:57 am

    You’re right Kristen. So many of us are afraid of failure. We are taught to be as perfect as possible. But how can we achieve perfection without failing and learning first? My own failures have taught me much.

  61. #69 by charlfk on March 6, 2012 - 6:11 am

    I have failed spectacularly in my life. I had a mantra: When you’re up to your arse in crocodiles it’s hard to remember you are there to drain the swamp. I eventually decided to crawl out of the swamp and drain it from the banks. A positive attitude to negative situations always works best. Now my kids say I’m like the damn phoenix, I always rise from the ashes no matter what. I have just spent an unhappy month sending queries to agents and had an even unhappier time reading the rejections. I went right back to basics and started trolling the internet to see how I should word an agent query. I have also gone back over my MS to see how to improve that–never mind that it’s been edited and polished hundreds of times. All I know is that I WILL SUCCEED.

    • #70 by Yvette on March 6, 2012 - 4:11 pm

      Holler! That made me laugh. Can I borrow your ‘up to your arse in crocs’ quote? I’m about to put it on Facebook!! :-) Coincidentally, my family have often referred to me as the phoenix too. It’s a rather apt title for writers in general I think….Good luck with getting an agent. Don’t give up yet, you’re almost there!
      Yvette Carol

  62. #71 by Donna Newton on March 6, 2012 - 6:36 am

    I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. You have to look for that silver lining and strive on to reach your goals. Obstacles are put in our way to test our determination and strength, and to show just how much we want our dreams.

    Great post, hun. xx

    Ps. Have you seen the gun on my FB page? For some reason the finder thought of us, lol.

  63. #72 by Emily on March 6, 2012 - 8:30 am

    Wow! That is exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right time. Not only as a writer, but as a teacher, mother, and wife. Thank you for sharing your story!

  64. #73 by Ginger Calem on March 6, 2012 - 9:15 am

    Really great post!! Thanks, Kristen.

  65. #74 by Doing Emersons on March 6, 2012 - 12:24 pm

    Hey Kristen,

    Nice piece. Keep up the good work! When you get a chance, check out a few of the pieces I’ve had published on The Huffington Post. Definitely more of an edgier slant. Be good to get your thoughts.

    Best,
    Tom (doingemersons.com)

  66. #75 by Marcy Kennedy on March 6, 2012 - 1:02 pm

    I’m a perfectionist so failure is devastating, but when I look back on my life, I see how every set back and failure led me to where I am now. And while I’m still not at the place I really want to be, I’m in a much better place than I would have been if everything had gone the way I originally planned. In that sense, I wouldn’t trade my failures for anything. I just wish they’d hurt a little less at the time ;)

  67. #76 by patricia l Morris on March 6, 2012 - 2:16 pm

    Your blogs are consistently not failures! They are so interesting I just had to comment.
    Keep doing what you are doing.

  68. #77 by Adriana Ryan on March 6, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    Wow, Kristen, you never cease to amaze. So glad you broke your back! Wait, that came out wrong… :P

    • #78 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 6, 2012 - 8:45 pm

      LOL…yeah, me too. I have such a big mouth, I would likely have landed in trouble. So now I get to stir trouble :D.

  69. #79 by katmagendie on March 6, 2012 - 8:35 pm

    Oh lawd — massive failures, – bad decisions – total #*%&-ups – yup . . .

    But look at me now! I’m . . . still sometimes failing *laughing* but I’m having the time of my life doing it – whoop!

    And I say – brava to you, Kristen – you are some kewl.

  70. #80 by Jennifer Hallmark on March 6, 2012 - 9:24 pm

    Very encouraging, Diana! I needed that tonight. I’ve had quite a few of those failures. I try to look at them as just one more thing to write about :) They make great fiction…

  71. #81 by Jennifer Hallmark on March 6, 2012 - 9:26 pm

    Sorry! wrong name…sheepish grin…I need to just go to bed…

  72. #82 by Jody Robbins on March 6, 2012 - 11:20 pm

    And here I thought I was the only failed writer still schlepping along…My biggest failures (or regrets) were those times when I had golden opportunities and didn’t take them. Who knows what might have happened if I had the courage to yes. Since writing professionally for the past year, I’ve said yes to almost every opportunity and while that’s opened up new doors, I’ve been spread too thin. I think I just need to trust. Trust in myself, trust that it’ll all work out OK and trust that goofing up on Twitter isn’t that big of a deal.

  73. #83 by Julie Day on March 7, 2012 - 6:07 am

    My first children’s book was a failure. A few years later now, I know why. There’s probably a lot of telling and no showing, not much description and the rest. I have learnt a lot more about writing since then that i have decided to rewrite some of the book, and then self-publish it as an ebook. Then I will send it to an editor for reading.

  74. #84 by Meghan Ward on March 7, 2012 - 1:11 pm

    It’s heartening to hear how one person’s failures turned into triumph. Thanks for sharing your story, Kristen. I hope I am on my way to being Damascus steel.

  75. #85 by Nadine on March 7, 2012 - 6:35 pm

    Hi Kristen! I recently joined #MyWANA, and am happy to be a part of this wonderful family. :-)

    Thank you SO much for this on-time and encouraging post. I even starred it in my inbox, so that I could refer to it whenever needed. I appreciate you sharing your experiences.

    I’m not sure if this is the place to ask writing-related questions, so forgive me if I should have posted this elsewhere. This question is on behalf of a friend of mine:

    How and when should a writer use “breaking the fourth wall” for maximum effect?

    Thank you.

  76. #86 by Leigh Rand on March 9, 2012 - 12:07 pm

    Wow. Let me explain that – I woke up this morning in a total depressive slump. I’ve been out of work now for a year and a half and battling a health problem. I have tried numerous ways to find employment, create employment, find a path, whatever. All have failed. Miserably. I sit here wondering why anyone with my education, creativity, and ability, has to go through such torture. Now I know. There are things I still need to learn. Thanks for pointing this out. I needed a direction. I needed to know that I was not alone. I needed to know how to let go and fully invest myself in my projects. Not sure I know everything about any of that, but at least I have an inkling of where to start now. Yes, I have an unfinished book. I thought I was stuck. Maybe not. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. I need to process it and get something relevant to my own experience from it, but I can tell you now – I feel better about everything just having read your experiences. Thank you.

  77. #87 by fidgetandsqueak on March 11, 2012 - 12:31 pm

    I seriously needed to see this. Yesterday I had a big huge list of things I wanted to get done, and only one of them ended up being started– and started poorly. It wasn’t that other things got in the way, or that something unexpected came up. I just ended up wasting the whole day. It felt awful. I let this happen to me a lot: I pile too much on my plate and then when one or two things get left off at the end I feel like I haven’t tried hard enough.

    This article is helping me bolster my strength against bad days like that, and to learn what I can from them. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and another day is here for me to make what I will of it. I choose to be Damascus steel. :)

  78. #88 by LKWatts on March 14, 2012 - 8:13 am

    Hi Kristen,

    All failings can be looked at as positives. It just entirely depends upon your point of view :).

  79. #89 by Angela Hunter on March 17, 2012 - 1:52 pm

    Thank you for this post.

    It took me a long time to realize that I was afraid to fail and my writing was suffering because of it.
    I still have improvements to make, but at least I am making them.

    Also, how did I not know about #myWANA? Thank you!!

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