Confessions of a Failing Artist

When nothing you do works, you start to wonder…

A very wise woman once told me that when we fail, it is useful to throw our arms up in the air and proclaim it to the world: “Yes! I have failed!” That little piece of advice has stuck with me over the years. And while I don’t typically make this proclamation aloud, I have always been quick to admit my failings. It’s a part of my character that I think is good and bad. On the one hand, it is a sign of being and staying genuine. On the other… well, it’s a constant reminder of my own shortcomings.

Friends, I say “Yes! I have failed!” to myself quite a lot.

Ever since I was a wee little kid, I’ve wanted to tell stories. At some point early on, that desire turned into the most direct application: I wanted to be a writer. From the earliest years of grade school up through my graduation from college in 2017, I have wanted to be a writer. Everything I have done, everything that I am, has been in service of that end. I am a writer, and sometimes I think I’m a pretty good one, but I don’t think anyone else does. And that’s the hardest failure of all. When everything you are has been in service to something you may not have the right stuff for, then what do you do?

I don’t know. That’s for sure.

Through my education, I learned more about how to construct pieces and how to keep ideas alive through words. I’ve learned ways to formulate these ideas into different kinds of pieces and, theoretically, determine what medium is best for each of them. But I don’t know, at all, what to do with them. Short of submitting submitting submitting to literary magazines that I’m not convinced anyone reads. And to what end? I don’t know that either.

Yes! I have failed!

My shortcoming is that I don’t know what to do. And I think plenty of people feel that way at one point or another. But as I watch friends and loved ones move up and up at the things they care so deeply about, medicine and play-writing and music and on and on, I have fallen to the wayside and settled into working just to get by. Those part-time jobs have turned into something more solid and stable in the meantime, while my writing career has done nothing but flail around like a fish trapped in the sunlight.

Even when I succeed, it feels useless. As if there is no finish line where I can eventually consider myself having “completed” what it is I set out to do. A piece of mine on this very website, written as a news article and discussion some six months ago, still gets 100 to 200 reads a week. I’ve not made a cent off of that story, not that I expected to, and no opportunities have presented themselves short of one person offering to republish the story on their personal Medium blog for the whopping sum of exposure.

Another piece, the only one I’ve ever been paid for, got published and shuffled away quickly. And now it’s just another jab I’ve taken from a couple of unnamed games writers who believe I’m just a word-filled punching bag.

Yes! I have failed!

But I don’t know why.

I’m trying my hardest out here, I think. But it’s adding up to nothing but enough rejection letters that I could build a home out of them. And while I understand that that is part of the game, that amount of rejection is exactly confidence-building here.

Once upon a time, I was a “good writer.” I got certificates and recognition in school because it was a small school and I gave a shit. But out here, in this ocean I’ve been transplanted into, I don’t have what I need. Apparently. I’ve not been called a “good writer” since high school. And I think it’s really sinking in that maybe this thing that I do, that I care so much about and have built my young life around, might be a faulty foundation. Maybe I’m just waiting for the whole thing to cave in and crush me. In the meantime, I’m trying to prop up the walls with my back for as long as possible. But through the cracked window pane of this structure I’ve built, this Frankenstein of a building, I see the continued expansion of other places.

And I wonder, in often tearful moments, why I can’t be over there.

Yes. I have failed.

David Cole is a man about the internet, originally released in 1994 for the Panasonic 3DO. His website lives here. He has written a collection of poetry that six people have read, which can be downloaded for free over here.