Failing and the Intimidation of the Great Big Writing World

I got my results back from the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge in the early hours of this morning (only the score, as feedback will come later this week), and it would be a mild understatement to say I’m a bit disappointed. I thought that maybe there was some possibility that I would knock this one out of the park and make it into the top 5 to head to Round 3.

I got zero.

I wasn’t expecting that. I also didn’t know I was going to be as disappointed as I am (I wonder if it’s just a case of bad timing with a number of other things that have been going on recently—more on that later). I certainly didn’t think my piece was award-winning, but I thought it was an interesting take on the prompts, and I also believe it was well-written—there you go peeps, there’s that artistic arrogance I’ve so energetically touted in the past. But seriously, I’m feeling pretty down about it all. Part of what pisses me off about failing is the need to justify why you’re upset about said failure. All of a sudden, everyone in the whole damn world is knocking on your door to tell you why you shouldn’t be upset and how lucky you are. So, let me deal with that first.

Newsflash: I get it. 

I get that I’m privileged because I have the time and space and money to enter these competitions, and I understand that there are people who’ve been doing these same competitions for some years and never yet scored points in them. I know, too, that some people have been writing for years, if not decades, and I’ve only (seriously) returned to writing creatively in the past two-three years. I understand all of that. But if you’re going to comment on this post telling me that I’m just ‘so lucky’ that I got points in the first round on the first time I did this challenge, then please don’t bother: I’m in a pretty bad mood and I may well just delete your comment. So it’ll be a waste of time for all parties.

Now, when I decided to participate in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, I decided that my reasons for doing so would be very simple. It would offer me an opportunity to be challenged by the competition’s strict stipulations about word length, genre, location and item, which I felt would force me outside my comfort zone and continue my development as a writer. That was, ostensibly, my primary reason for participating. The other, less-discussed reason was that I think I’m a good writer, and I wanted (after numerous magazine submission rejections) to participate in something a little different… I wanted to do well.

It’s always difficult to be forced to accept that you aren’t good enough to make the mark.

That’s the hardest part for me, is the knowledge that I wasn’t good enough. Not even for a single point. And I think part—though by no means, all—of the reason that this hit so hard is that I’ve been feeling really down a few things recently. Predominantly blogging and writing.  As I’m nearing the end of my novel (I think), I feel more and more that when I finally finish transcribing it and begin to edit it, I’m going to be completely overwhelmed by the amount of work that still needs to be done. There’s a small and terrifyingly noisy part of me that keeps insisting that it’s little more than a mishmash of events I’ve plunged my MC into because I didn’t know what else to do (actually a relatively accurate summary of how I went about writing it, so I guess I deserve everything I get). That it’s a mess, pure and simple, and in order to fix it, it won’t be a matter of ‘editing’ so much as butchering the whole thing, and then sobbing as I struggle to assemble a million tiny little pieces into something resembling a story. Just the thought of that is an incredible weight on my shoulders.

As for blogging, I’m struggling with the point of it all. I would be the first person to admit that, while I don’t just blog to be read, it would be a complete fallacy if I said that I wasn’t doing this to achieve communication and networking with, and feedback from, other writers and people who might read my work. With that in mind, it is thus important to me to reach people and to have my words heard: if I didn’t care about that, I’d probably just keep a journal instead of a blog (and there’d be a lot less bloody pressure to get the stupid thing written in accordance with some stupid schedule I’ve arbitrarily decided I’ll abide by).

In all honesty, it feels like everywhere I look, there are other people reaching more readers, interacting with more people who are interested or invested in their work and generally just accomplishing more through their blog. There are people who are achieving. And I feel like I’m not, but I can’t really figure out where I’m going wrong. I spend a lot of time and effort in networking for my blog. Maybe that’s a bit of an unromantic and mundane thing to say, but I’ve worked hard to meaningfully connect with those people whose blogs I follow. I do my best to periodically get around my WordPress reader list to chat to people about their work in a way that is encouraging and thoughtful, while also offering some critical insight (if at all possible). Yet the vast majority of those people don’t interact with me. I’m not saying its a tit-for-tat kind of thing where if I comment, they HAVE to comment back… But I am saying that it would be nice if people worked to support other people in their network who are trying just as hard and feeling really down about it all. [Disclaimer: I’d like to take this chance to send a huge shout out to Jac and Nik. It sounds crazy, but every time I feel down about my blog I think about how much support you’ve shown me and I feel really reassured and encouraged—thank you so much for interacting with my work, for discussing your ideas with me and generally just keeping me going.] 

But people are interested in what others are doing, and the means the only conclusion I can reach is that my content is lacking (I mean, my own family doesn’t read my blog—what does that tell you?).

I’m not really sure where to go from there.

Finally, places like Twitter are truly awesome for helping you get in contact with other like-minded people. Optimally, you’re able to build a community that supports one another, exchanges ideas and grows together: and I’ve met some great friends and some brilliant human beings in this way who’ve been very encouraging and friendly. That being said, it can also be incredibly difficult to read about what other people are doing, especially when everyone else also seems to be validating them and their ideas, while you’re feeling invisible. It’s also awesome when people follow you so you’ll follow them back, then unfollow you (honestly, that’s a jerk move). It just feels sometimes like I’m investing all of this time and energy into something that could be a dead end: does that mean I’m going to stop? Probably not, because I’ll probably wake up tomorrow and re-attack it all, and if I want to succeed, I have to be committed to surviving and learning from failure in order to continue to grow and develop… It’s a long road, and the only way to make it down one of those is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But it still stinks.

So, knowing that I’ll get up again and try tomorrow, today I’m going to give myself permission to feel defeated and downhearted about this, because failing sucks.



  1. First and foremost: BRAVA! And don’t worry, I’m not going to pat you on the back about how you get an A for effort. Thanks for saying what so many of us feel as we go through this insane process. I was drafting my own reaction post when yours popped onto my radar and while we have different takes (we are two different people, and we had two different experiences, etc) I just need to commend us both for not being afraid to say how we feel about this.

    And the best part, Ana? Is that neither of us is going to say, “Don’t worry, eventually you’ll feel like me,” which asserts that one of us is right and one is wrong. Nope. The way you feel, in this moment and 24 hours from now is exactly right. And your statements are spot on.

    That feeling of “not good enough” is one of the most crippling for me. As a writer, as an ANYTHING I have a serious hang up when it comes to competence and so even though I know that art is subjective and all that jazz, there is still an inherent sting. The time. The effort. The risk of sending a piece to others and to total strangers to judge.

    You are RIGHT. And you get to feel however you want.

    But if you don’t start writing again tomorrow I’ll kick your ass. For now — indulge in your feelings and know that beta-ing your pieces brought me great joy and that I thoroughly enjoyed your pieces.

    • Thanks Nancy 🙂 I’m looking forward to having a read of your piece in detail today! But I’m glad to have the chance to get it out in the open and be honest about it: I wonder if sometimes part of the reason people feel intimidated is because they feel like everyone else is killing it and they’re the only ones struggling. I know exactly what you mean about the struggle of showing others your work too, and I’m not really sure that’ll ever go away, because our work will always be close to our hearts. I’m feeling a lot better and my novel has experienced some love recently, so we’re going well 🙂 Thanks you so much for your comment and all your help <3

  2. I get it. I just do… you’ll jump back on the horse again though. Because you are a WRITER and that is what you do. Rejection is a part of being a writer. Even the historically famous writers were rejected at some point. It doesn’t make it sting any less though, I know. Anyway, I get it. I need you to know that. x

    • Thanks Claire: I appreciate knowing that you get it too! I think there are SO many of us in the same boat about rejection and failure, but sometimes it just really knocks me for six. I read one of your recent posts and I am SO glad to hear how well everything is going for you! I’ll be back for another visit soon to read some more of your work 🙂 x

  3. I completely know what you’re through. Defeat and not-good-enough are painful feelings to have, and I wish you didn’t have to suffer, but I understand, and you have the right to feel them if you feel them. Sometimes we have to just go through an emotion, experience it and process it, in order to come out the other side. Sometimes we have to feel bad for a little while before we feel better, and other people trying to talk us out of it (even if they mean well) doesn’t help.

    I was terrified to start editing my book too. Sometimes I would be hit with this overwhelming feeling of “OH GOD IT’S A TOTAL MESS,” just like you. I saw everything wrong with it all at once. But once I started editing and took it one piece at a time, I realized it wasn’t as catastrophic as I thought. I had made it much worse in my head. Perhaps you will discover yours is not as messy as you expect, too? Take it one piece at a time.

    As for blogging, I have felt discouraged about my blog too. I see people with thousands of readers who get a hundred likes on each post, and I get envious, because I only get a handful and I happen to quite like my blog! But I try to remind myself that I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes with other bloggers. Maybe they’ve built up their following over YEARS. Maybe they pour hours of their day into keeping up with others. Maybe they got lucky and had a post shared by just the right person and it blew up. Maybe they advertise! Who knows! Keeping that in mind helped me not take it quite so personally. Though I still get envious now and then. (And btw, I happen to enjoy your blog a lot!)

    And as for Twitter, I use an app that shows me who unfollows me, because I can’t stand it when I follow someone back and then they turn around and unfollow. Like you said – jerk move!

    I hope you feel better soon. <3

    • Thanks for your reply Sharon 🙂 I felt a lot better for getting it all out and then I was better able to accept the disappointment and move on. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only person who feels like that before they started editing! Recently I’m found that every time I’m feeling overwhelmed, writing a bit more or just taking it piece by piece really calms me down and reassures me.
      Blogging is definitely a challenge. Especially when you feel like you’re putting up quality content (side note: I love your blog too!), but I agree that there’s often more going on behind the scenes than we might know about. I also know that I’m committed to the long haul, but sometimes it’s just so URGH.
      Haha I’m going to start doing that! Awesome idea.
      Thanks again for dropping by — your comment really made me smile 🙂 <3

  4. Good on you! It is always a brave risk we take with competitions because we don’t understand how much – quality versus what the people’s expectations are – plays in it. Just got to keep swimming until the tide is right. I always remind myself of that nail on the wall that Stephen King had which held up all his rejection letters. It fell off before he could even think about any kind of success! But one thing that rusty sharp nail has taught me is that a rusty nail is better than a shiny boring blunt object!!! Haha!

    • Yeah and I think that’s something I really struggle with, is understanding the standards and the expectations associated with entering competitions. I agree: gotta just keep swimming! I also know that I’m pretty early along in my journey as a writer, and that realistically, it’s a long, long road. Hahaha Stephen King: he’s amazing!

  5. Wow, herring a zero is definitely a lot to take, I knew rejection is part of any writer’s experience but I don’t blame you for being hurt by it. hopefully the feedback may help you look at your work in a new light. And I can completely understand the mounting pressure with nesting the end of your novel! Dx Is this the first draft?

    What is it you’re trying to do with your blog? If it’s networking then you’re succeeding, there’s not really any point in getting caught up in the numbers unless your goal is to eventually earn a living from running it.

    Haha, who doesn’t love those people who follow for follows just to later unfollow. I think the trick is to just invest time in the people’s blogs who you genuinely enjoy, that way hopefully it won’t feel like such a waste of time. 🙂

    • Haha well, I didn’t really like the feedback either: I’ve put it out of my mind for the moment and I’ll revisit it when I’m feeling ready for it :p
      Yes, first draft! And all handwritten, so I still need to finish transcribing it once I finish writing. I’m just trying to stay calm about it all 😛
      Thanks for visiting and leaving your thoughts! I really appreciate it 🙂 Looking forward to getting over to your blog soon and seeing some more of your work 🙂

      • Lol I think the saying goes, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit!”

        All handwritten? Yeah I can see how that’s daunting, but good on you for pulling through I don’t know whether I’d have the patience. I usually hand-write my short fiction but don’t know how I’d do with longer work. 😮

        • Haha exactly: I don’t think I could deny that! Yeah, all handwritten… The transcribing that to digital will be painful! Haha yeah, part of me is hitting myself, but I find writing to be so enjoyable that I don’t mind so much. I only tend to write in hour-long stints, too, so I think that probably makes a difference!

  6. Your only option is to continue. Always to continue. Please, keep the arrogance. My favorite author knew his writing was excellent while writing it. Cheers.

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