How to Never Be a Writing “Failure”

Dealing with rejection doesn’t have to be a discouraging experience. Here, P.S. Hoffman offers five ways to fail smarter and set yourself up for success, even after you’ve been rejected by a publisher or an agent.


This happened a few weeks ago.

I just finished a short story. Months of work. I can’t tell you how many drafts I’ve been through. Finally sent it to one of my favorite publishers.

And they rejected me. Again.

But… you know what? I’m counting this as a major victory for my writing career. Let me tell you why:

How to Never Become a Failed Writer

Do you know the difference between a great writer and a “true failure?”

Great writers know this:

Failure is not an option. It is a necessity.

Most new writers (and a surprising amount of professional writers) give up when they hit that critical mass of “one failure too many.”

It comes in many forms:

  • Not finding the time to write
  • Always starting “the next new thing” (and not finishing anything)
  • Spending hundreds of hours on a manuscript, only to get it rejected seventeen times in a row.

I invite you to walk through the fabled halls of Great Writerdom. See how the floors are littered with their old rejections. For some of the world’s bestselling authors, these rejections were a point of pride—Stephen King even pins them to his walls.

Failure is Not Permanent…

Unless you choose to give up permanently.

What does a true writing failure look like?

Someone who has given up on writing their dream novel. Or someone who quit writing because they decided it wasn’t worth the long, winding path, potholed with failures.

Great writers understand that failures are the fires in which they forge their craft. Failure is the fastest—and in many cases, the only—way to grow.

5 Ways to Fail Smarter at Your Writing

1. Which Failure Hurts You the Most?

This is the failure I want you to think about right now. The rest of these strategies will help you get more out of your failures.

So… what is crushing your writing muse right now:

  • Can’t find the time to write?
  • Can’t focus when you sit down to write?
  • Can’t get over the latest impersonal rejection for your short story?

2. Bask in Your Failures…

Don’t hide it. Don’t swallow it whole and try to pretend you don’t feel pain over your failures.

Emotions are the writer’s most powerful tools. Feel them. Use them.

At best, you will remember this feeling, and your drive to succeed will improve. At worst, you’ll have something new to write about.

3. …but Don’t Dwell on Them.

You get twenty four hours to feel the pain of failure. After that, you gotta get right back up on that horse, and keep on keepin’ on.

Find a reason to keep writing, and go. When you get focused on writing new words and new ideas, you won’t have time to despair.

4. Why Did You Fail? (This one’s CRITICAL).

You need to be enthusiastic about doing better.

You must have the will to analyze your failures. Find something—anything—that works.

For example, if you find it hard to sit down and write… Plan out your writing time for the next week. Write down your starting goals, and keep track of how you did. Be passionate about improving.

And if you’re desperate, I’ve heard of some writers who tie themselves to their chairs… but I can’t vouch for the effects of this strategy on your mental health.

For longer term goals—like getting your manuscript published—I highly suggest you keep sharpening your writing skills by reading more books and blogs about writing.

Want to improve as fast as possible? Writer’s Digest also offers online courses and workshops that will help you hone your craft.

5. Fail Faster So You Can Fail More

I sent my latest short story to 10 different publications. They sent back 10 of the same, canned response: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

What did I learn?

There was something fundamentally wrong with the beginning of my story. Nobody was getting past the first couple of pages. Nobody bought into my protagonist.

It needed work—especially in the beginning. After two more weeks dedicated solely to making my main character more likable, and sharpening my beginning (I ended up cutting 1000+ words), I sent out the story again.

Publishers started talking to me. One of them asked me to submit it again for their August submission period.

No, it’s not a publication (yet), but I’m one massive step closer.

The Strategy Behind “Fast Failure”

We don’t want to fail. In fact, I doubt I’ve ever aimed to fail with my stories.

Still, it’s inevitable. So, here’s one last strategy for you writers:

Don’t slam your head against the wall again and again, asking “why does this hurt?” Instead, when you see failure happening, stop and recognize it.

Figure out why you’re failing, and take steps to fix the problem.

Let’s say you want to try out a new voice or style with your next story. But it’s risky—you’re not sure if it will work.

Don’t spend forever writing the whole story. Just write the first few pages, and see if your friends want to read more.

Aim to fail faster. That way, you get a better chance at honing your craft in a way people actually want to read.

Are You Using Your Failures the Right Way?

Fellow writer, I’m excited to fail. And I hope you are too.

Because our failures can sharpen us and vastly improve the stories we tell. Writing is—and will always be—a struggle. Even some of the best known writers (who sell millions of books a year) confess to struggling with false starts, books they can’t sell, and bad ideas.

Embrace your catastrophic losses. Because through your failures, you will achieve your writing dreams.

What Was Your Most Painful Writing Failure?

  • Why did you fail?
  • What did you learn from this failure?
  • How are you going to make sure you “win” next time?

Answer in the comments below!


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One thought on “How to Never Be a Writing “Failure”

  1. nmangini

    Every time I receive a query rejection (I’m only up 8) and dig in to write another customized query to another literary agent, I find I am refining my pitch and query. Each iteration appears to be getting tighter and more compelling. Maybe by query # 50 I’ll get it just right.

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