What do you do when you fail?

 Note: This is one of two posts I wrote last month for the Boise Novel Orchard blog. Because I've picked up a few more followers since then, I thought I'd repost them here. Enjoy!

I have a confession to make. As many of you know, I've been trying to write 500 words a day this year. And right now my average... is not so good. About 50 percent follow-through, in fact. (Maybe worse. It wasn't a good few weeks for me.)

I'm still making it a goal, but it's a goal I don't always reach and that got me thinking.

What do you do when you fail?

I'm not talking about rejections from agents or editors or bad reviews/critiques. Those are things you don't have much control over. But what do you do when you set a goal for yourself and don't make it?

It happens all the time with me. Exercise and diet are the two biggest offenders, but writing is up there. I make a goal, I set out to do it....

And I mess up. Forget. Get distracted. Get stressed. Get too tired. Watch TV.

So what do you do?

I think the biggest key is to focus on the present.

If you aren't making your goals, don't dwell on your past failures. That leads to making excuses, or if you're a self-flagellating type, getting discouraged.

And don't worry about the future. "How will I ever learn to do this?" "What if I suck for the rest of the year?" "What if I NEVER make my goals?" These are not profitable questions, and won't help you.

Focus on the present. It's about you, today, doing today's work. It doesn't matter if you didn't do it yesterday, or the day before, or for the last six months. You can do today's work today.

Maria Killilea in her book With Love from Karen says: "Now is all that can be presently profitable."

So that's what I do when I fail. I start over, every day, and do it again. And I try to be patient with myself. I missed many blog posts when I first started trying to blog on a regular basis. I fell down a lot when I learned to ride a bike.

Failure is part of the learning process, and as of this minute, all your failures are in the past.

Focus on the now.

And go write 500 words, too. :)


  1. Excellent advice. I try not to set goals, half the time I don't live up to them so I don't feel like I am failing. However, I do need to make these goals. I am the Organized Chaos Queen. If I would set goals, I'd become a little more organized and prioritize better as well.

  2. Setting goals puts me on track. If I don't meet my goals, at least I've done more than I would have had I not set the goal. Does that make sense? My goals aren't always as specific as "write 500 words." It might just be to revise a page or two -- think about my WIP -- today. Making a list helps. And don't consider it a failure if you don't meet something. Just pick up and try again tomorrow. Keep making forward progress.

  3. I do set goals, small ones that keep me moving forward, and usually one is necessary in order to move on to the next step. At the end of the week, whatever didn't get checked off my to-do list gets put at the top of next week's list. The goal doesn't go away until I do it.

  4. In college, I met my goals days ahead of time. But I had to; I was being graded and paying for them to give me a degree! Now it's a whole lot harder to meet my goals. I don't have any major deadlines except the ones I set for myself, and if I don't make them, what's going to happen? Nothing. Like you said, when I don't meet my goals I just try to stay in the present and not think about what I'm trying to achieve in the future. I think about what I can do right now, and then I do it.

    Loved this post, Miriam!

  5. Caledonia- I know how you feel. I hate failing more than anything. (In fact I had to write it down and stick it up on a bulletin board. "Failure isn't fatal".) But despite setting goals, I'm still not that organized. :)

    Kris. So true! That's what I'm learning, anything is better than nothing. Though specific goals do help because they give me a way to gauge if I can stop yet.

    Joanne- Your persistence is great! I agree with you about keeping undone goals a priority, once something gets put off and shuffled down the list, it becomes much harder to remember to do it.

    Laura- Why thank you very much! :) And I know what you mean. I have a much easier time motivating myself to do my bill-paying job than I do to write. Even though writing is more fun!

  6. Good advice! I also give myself permission to fail now and then and not be too hard on myself for it. Sometimes we really do need a break :)

  7. I just recently failed to meet a goal of mine. I wanted to reach the official halfway point on my WiP by my birthday (April 2.) Well, that day's come and gone, I didn't make it.

    I didn't let myself get all stressed about it. I simply made a new goal and shrugged off any guilt/stress I could feel for not meeting my goal.

  8. T.S.- It's so key to be gracious with ourselves, isn't it? I agree with you, sometimes we do need a break.

    Renee- That's a great goal, Renee, and a good way to handle it. Just take a deep breath, reset the goal and keep going. :) (And Happy Birthday!!!!)

  9. I sigh a little and try again. Failure, like criticism, should never be taken personally. Be honest. "Do I really want to?" I think you have to be brave and try something different. Write and read in another genre, do something outrageous - go skinny dipping, bungee jump, seduce your partner in a batman costume. Change is good.

  10. Miriam--Good post. I've been stuck on a pb project I'm working on. I'm actually thinking of paying someone to help me. I've moved it along a long way since the idea ame to me...I just want to get it right so I can move on to the next project...

  11. Simon- I LIKE this! "Failure, like criticism, should never be taken personally." I think I'll write it down somewhere so I can remember it. And change is good, keeps us from getting stale.

    Sharon- Oo, I hate being stuck. I had that problem last year. I knew I needed to revise, I just didn't know what else to do.

    While I did get a professional critique of the first three chapters, I also set the book aside for a month or two. To be honest, the distance helped as much as the critique. Working on new projects also helps me by shaking up my brain.

    Good luck!


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