Last weekend I was lucky enough to be present for a keynote speech by John Gilstrap, a NY Times Bestselling novelist at the C3 Conference.
He described his writing career – how he progressed from journalist to safety engineer and then finally to full time writer. His career skyrocketed until he suffered a number of setbacks a few years later. He found himself in a dark place. He struggled as the publishing industry gave up on him, but he never gave up on himself. Step by step – or rather book by book – he came back from it.
He ended his speech with a declaration. No one else can proclaim that we have failed – however we define it.
As a society, John pointed out that we tout the exceptions — the Brad Pitts and the John Grishams, while we tell the dreamers who seek to become them that they will fail. Perhaps because we are afraid of failure or taking the risk ourselves. When we venture down the path, others are only too quick to label us a failure.
Only when we let that negative emotion seep into our own self-worth do we really become a failure. People will always seek to criticize or point out what we’ve done wrong. We should try to learn as much as we can from their criticisms and throw out the rest. When we seek out our goals we do so for our own reasons – for our own validation. Receiving it from others can be validating, but we cannot depend on it. Validation from others can be quick to disappear if things start to go downhill. The only way to withstand it is to rely on internal validation.
Before publishing my first novel, a number of my close friends pointed out the risks associated with becoming a writer. How would I earn enough of an income? Would I be one of the many aspiring writers who never actually finish their first book? The questions they asked me go on and on. These were people that wanted the best for me – they just didn’t want to see me suffer by taking a more risky path. Now that I have published, it’s much easier for them to support me since I already figured out many of those answers. If I’d let their opinions sway me, I would never have made it this far. While I still have a long way to go, I’m in the arena with my writing.
I was deeply moved by what John said about failure. I’m sure that it will resonate with me many times through my writing career. I hope that it serves as a reminder for many of you as you go through the inevitable ups and downs of any professional endeavor.
I would love to hear from all of you. What are your thoughts on failure? On taking risks?
My first novel AHRIMAN: THE SPIRIT OF DESTRUCTION (Book I of The Ahriman Legacy) is available as an ebook at all major retailers and a paperback at Amazon.com. http://amzn.to/1rJjjb0.