If Your Goal is to Try, You Can't Fail
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
"The only form of failure is not writing," Garth Greenwell said at my MFA commencement. I wrote that quote on an index card and stuck it on my bulletin board in my home office. It reminds me that, just by doing, I'm succeeding, that the process is just as important as the end goal. There will always be something else to accomplish, another mountain to climb, but if your goal is simply to try, to do what you can, you've already succeeded.
In Kim Liao's famous essay from a few years ago, she argues that writers should aim for 100 rejections a year. Acceptances are out of your control (besides putting together the best work you can). All you can control is the effort you put into it. Try more, and you'll eventually succeed. My goal is to submit at least 100 pieces a year. In 2019, I submitted 126 pieces and in 2020, I'm already at 98. I had four pieces published last year and four so far this year, and a lot of nice rejections. The more you do it, the easier it gets. When I get a rejection, I turn around and submit somewhere else. I (try to) listen to the positive feedback I get and appreciate the effort that goes into publishing (after all, I've been on the other side of it as a judge and editor and reader). I try to accept what I can control - the effort - and let go of what I can't - the decision. All I can do is try.
As usual, I'm better at giving than taking advice. Sure, I can tell myself the goal is just to try, but I still get disappointed by every rejection. My to-do lists are still a mile long and totally set me up for failure. But, I tell my students, set small goals that you can accomplish every day so that you know you've put in the work and that's all you can do. Instead of making your goal write a book, make it write 1,000 words, something you can actually get done. If your goal is not to succeed, but to try, it feels much easier.
To paraphrase Garth Greenwell, the only real failure is not trying.