When Jake invited me to write about my experiences in my own self reset, I wasn’t sure at first what to write about. I’ve been through ups and downs on my path toward my dream—becoming a full-time writer—and so there are various things I’ve learned along the way that I could tell you. But one thing kept popping into my head for my very first post: failure. So here I am, talking to you about failure.
Every time I do a school visit, I always make sure I bring two folders. One is filled with letters of acceptances of various writings I’ve done—articles, short stories, the letter from my agent saying he wanted to be my agent. It’s a nice folder to look at to see evidence of my accomplishments as a writer.
The other folder contains my rejections from nearly fourteen years of writing for publication. The rejection folder doesn’t even contain all of my rejections, there are still a lot that I never printed out from my emails. But it does contain enough that it’s more than twice as thick as my acceptance folder.
I bring these two folders to show the kids I’m talking to that it’s normal to fail sometimes. It can even be good to fail. Sometimes not getting what you think you want can lead to something better later on, you just have to keep yourself open to the possibility even when things seem bleakest. There have been moments when I thought I’d never see myself published. There are still moments now when I’m sure I’ll never write another book or never get another publishing contract. There are people who hate my writing. Even after writing and publishing nine books, I still get rejected. I’m sure I’ll get rejected many, many more times before I decide to finally stop writing for good (which will be far off into the future, I hope!).
Before I published my first book, I had tried for five years to get a literary agent to represent me. I had written dozens of letters to various agents, telling them about my book and about myself, and included a few sample pages of my writing. Most of the responses I got were form letters that they send out to everyone they aren’t interested in. There were a lot of them who never responded at all! Each time I heard a no, or complete silence, it ate away at my dream just a little. In early 2005, I’d had enough. I told my husband, “I’m not trying anymore. Apparently, I’m not supposed to be a writer. So I quit.”
And I did. I didn’t write anything for a few months. I read books and focused on my job as a graphic designer, but I didn’t write. I was done with that dream. I had failed and it was time to move on.
But of course, that wasn’t the end. After a few months of not writing, a new idea hit me and wouldn’t go away. So I decided to write it just for myself and no one else would ever see it. Once the first draft was done, I decided to do some editing on it. Then I decided I liked the book so much, I’d send it out to a few agents and see what happened.
I still got rejected, but the response was different this time. I had some close calls with agents who were interested in seeing the whole book. That was farther than I’d ever gotten before. And then eventually, I got the call from one of those agents saying he wanted to represent me and try to sell my book to a publisher. Which he successfully did when I received a publishing contract for a two book deal seven months later.
The thing I learned from that experience and that I try to teach the kids I speak to during school visits is that failure is not the end. It’s okay to quit when you need to. It’s okay to walk away and try something else for a while. Don’t be afraid of failure. Even after seeing my dream come true with my first book published, I later failed again when my publisher decided not to publish anymore of my books after the second one. Yes, it sucked—but I found a way to move on and revived my career again.
Don’t be afraid to let yourself fail. Pick yourself back up, reset your plan, do things a different way, and keep going.
Shana Norris is a graphic designer and author of nine books for teens. Find her at ShanaNorris.com and SPNDesigns.com.