A while ago Sarah Duncan blogged about the struggle many writers have with failure. (You can read her interesting blogpost here. And do trawl the rest of her blog for useful writerly things here). She started me thinking.
I struggle with the term 'failure'. It suggests we can divide endeavour into those who achieve, and those who do not. Some years ago I tried to climb Kilimanjaro. I was within six hours of the top before giving up. Was that a failure? Surely even trying was something to be proud of. And altitude sickness had stolen my appetite, so I was unable to consume the 4000 calories a day needed to keep myself warm and carry on climbing. Although I drooped with disappointment at the time (even, at one point, forgetting how grim it was and wondering if I should try again), looking back it doesn't feel like a failure. I didn't do badly, given that I was fifty at the time, and my fellow 'failures' included a marathon runner and PE teacher.
I wonder if it all begins in school. Teachers smothered my sums with red crosses; I believe I'm hopeless at maths. We had terrible 'team-choosing' times for games, with the sporty girls as captains selecting equally sporty friends to join them leaving the lumpy and unco-ordinated (me) to be one of the last. (Tell me they don't do that any more?) Failure had a very public meaning then.
Is writing, or learning to paint, or taking exams, or playing golf - so very different? Okay, there are pass marks, there is evidence of not doing so well, but I don't think we can separate ourselves so crudely into those who achieve and those who fail. There are degrees of not doing well, of not really trying, of being defeated by circumstances. And sometimes there comes a point where giving up is the sensible, realistic, or timely thing to do.
Surely what's important is to try, and to enjoy the trying.
And, as for the writing - like most, I could paper the bathroom with rejections. This is not, I would argue, evidence of failure, but rather than I carry on trying. That, I hope, is something to be proud of.
Or do you see it differently? Does the idea of failure leave you weeping? And how do you define success?