The Only Way to Fail as a Writer

J.C. McBride
Nov 13, 2019 · 4 min read

Getting rejected doesn’t make you a failure

Image by oksun70 — licensed from DepositPhotos

Thousands of commuters waited to cross the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis on a sweltering August day. It was the evening rush hour, but the temperature was still in the 80s. Traffic was unusually slow because massive construction equipment was blocking several lanes.

Bridge repairs were underway.

Around six ‘o’clock something slipped. The movement was imperceptible for the first one-thousandth of a second. Then in the next moment, the entire bridge collapsed, sending 13 people to their deaths in the Mississippi river, and injuring another 145.

A major bridge had failed, and the results were horrific.

When Writers Struggle

When things go badly for a writer, nobody dies — at least not real people. But, when you’re struggling, it can feel like you’re the protagonist in a Greek tragedy — it feels like the gods have cursed you to watch your dreams slowly die for all eternity.

If you were to survey a random group of 100 writers, and you could guarantee honest answers, 99 of those writers would admit to feeling like a failure. We writers are a miserable lot.

Writers believe they are failures because they haven’t found an agent yet, because they keep getting rejected by magazine editors, because nobody is reading their blog, because not enough people are reading their blog, because nobody will buy their screenplay, because they can’t find freelance clients, and thousands of other reasons.

But, these are not failures. As writers, we often confuse rejection and failure. Being rejected isn’t failing — rejection is just the price of admission to living the writer’s life. Even the most celebrated and successful writers face rejection. Rejection isn’t limited to the beginning of a writing career either.

If you’ve never been rejected, you haven’t been trying hard enough.

As a writer, there is only one way to fail, and it has nothing to do with rejection. It’s the same reason the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007.

Anatomy of a Bridge Collapse

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse, experts flooded media outlets with their speculation as to the cause of the bridge failure. Some suggested that routine civil engineering inspections had been mistaken about the bridge’s condition. Others were sure it was the unusual heat that summer that had broken the bridge. Some guessed that the heavy construction equipment was more than the old bridge could bear. More than a few opined that it was a perfect storm of engineering mistakes, weather, and construction equipment that killed 13 people.

While pundits bloviated, a team at the National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation. They didn’t finish in time for that evening’s newscast, or even the one the next evening. The entire news cycle had moved on when the report on the bridge collapse was released 16 months later.

The conclusion was stunning. The cause of the bridge collapse was a construction mistake made when the bridge was erected 40 years earlier in 1967.

A set of metal plates called gusset plates were only half as thick as the civil engineering drawings called for. The bridge would’ve lasted decades longer, but the too-thin plates gave out after 40 years of pressure, wear and tear.

The bridge failed because it lacked structural integrity. The bridge collapsed because the gusset plates quit distributing the load.

A Writer’s Structural Integrity

Like the bridge, you take a lot of wear and tear as a writer. There is always pressure of one kind or another. When a reader, an editor, or an agent rejects you, you have not failed. You are just experiencing the natural forces that work against all writers.

It still hurts. When you are passionate about your work, rejection stings no matter how many times you have experienced it, no matter how thick your skin is.

But what are you going to do about getting rejected?

The only way for you to fail as a writer is for you to be like the gusset plates on the bridge over the mighty Mississippi river; you fail when you quit working.

As a writer, your job is to write. You cannot control who likes your work, who is willing to pay for your work, or who is willing to give you a chance.

You can only control two things: the quality and the quantity of your work.

If you have integrity as a writer, if your structural integrity is intact, the only way to deal with rejection is to go back and do your job. Write.

It doesn’t matter how difficult things are for you right now, as long as you continue to write, you are a writer.

You are not a failed writer unless you’ve given up. Taking a break, improving your craft, and reevaluating your goals are not signs of a failed writing career.

How about it? Do you have enough integrity to keep writing, even in the face of relentless pressure and rejection? Or are you going to buckle like a cheap piece of steel that’s only half as thick as it’s supposed to be?

You’re the writer. Only you can decide if you’re going to keep working or if you’re going to quit and let everyone waiting for you to take them to the other side fall into the river below.

J.C. McBride

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Haiku Maniac — Pulp Poet— Weird Fiction Author — Freelance Copywriter Views belong to my demon parasite

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