Why It’s Okay to Fail

by The Magic Violinist | 19 comments

It’s only been ten days since NaNoWriMo finished and I ought to be celebrating. And I am, but in a different way, and not for the reasons you’d think. For the first time in eight years, I did not complete my word count goal. I failed NaNoWriMo.

Why it's Okay to Fail

Being the perfectionist and goal-oriented person that I am, I found myself to be surprisingly okay with November’s outcome. So I’d only written 20,000 words. So what? It’s okay. Do you want to know why? I’ll let you in on a little secret.

It’s okay to fail

I don’t even particularly like the word “failure.” It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It sounds like a bad word. Failure.

As writers and as people, we’ve taught ourselves that failure is the worst possible thing that could happen to you when you set out to conquer a challenge. It’s embarrassing to lose or even quit if you want to.

But it shouldn’t be, because it’s okay to fail. And why is that?

You learn something from failure

The first step is learning how to pinpoint why something didn’t work out.

I can list the exact reasons why I wasn’t able to write the extra 30,000 words and complete my goal. I had lots of homework that took precedence during the weeks of November. I had little to no time to write when my grandparents came to visit for Thanksgiving. When I was able to write, sometimes I felt stuck and didn’t get as much done as I’d hope.

So what can I learn from this? I know that being busy is a legitimate excuse to not be able to write. I know that if I want to have time to write when I know we’ll be busy, I need to specifically carve out a chunk of time dedicated to it. I know that time is precious and I need to make the effort to turn off all distractions in order to make the most of it.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

It’s hard to let go when it means a lot to you. NaNoWriMo is always something I’ve looked forward to, so the fact that I wasn’t able to finish something I loved this year hurt. But it also meant I got to practice not being so hard on myself.

It’s okay not to be perfect. Sometimes it’s even refreshing. It reminds you that you can always be better. It’s exciting to realize that you can go up from here. There will definitely be setbacks along the way, but the possibility as to how high you can go is endless. There will be other NaNoWriMos. And who knows, maybe next time I’ll go above and beyond.

How do you handle failure? Let us know in the comments.


Is there a writing project you've failed to complete, or disappointed yourself by not meeting your goal? Be gentle on yourself and don't get discouraged. Today, pick up that writing again and take fifteen minutes to work on it.

When you're done, share your writing in the comments, and don't forget to give your fellow writers some encouragement, as well!

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The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).


  1. Barbara

    Thanks for this. I needed to hear it.

  2. A W

    Great perspective on this. I think even when we don’t win Nanowrimo we win in other ways. I didn’t reach 50, 000 words this year and was disappointed as well. However, I don’t think it’s a failure if you’ve learned something along the way, which I always do each November I take it on. The year before I learned how to stretch my writing muscles and write more words in one sitting. This year, I’ve learned how to move on when I find myself stuck.

  3. Cathy Ryan

    This is so true! Plus you have an opportunity to evaluate your priorities. Completion of your degree is important. So is taking time to visit with your grandparents. You won’t have them with you forever. And, yes, writing is a priority only if we choose that and honor it by setting aside the time. I have never failed to make deadlines that concern other people; those I consider carefully before accepting, but I have allowed personal deadlines to slide by. Recognizing that about myself was an important moment – a time of evaluation. I have begun to honor my writing more recently and am producing more. Surprise! 🙂
    I like your message: be kind to yourself and learn. We don’t fail until we stop.

    • drjeane

      Cathy, your words, “We don’t fail until we stop” ring so true and a great reminder to get moving, even if the pace isn’t quite what we had hoped for. Thank you for this important reminder.

  4. Judith A.Clarke

    Paper and pen in hand, the timer set.
    Write your thoughts down, it will be time well spent.
    You’ll grow in your writing, it’s a guaranteed fact.
    The fifteen minutes fly by, all too fast.
    Start writing my friend, time never lasts.
    Time’s never wasted when writing.
    Use it wisely, we can’t get it back.
    Ideas will blossom and flourish,
    I promise you that.
    The timer bings, time slipped by,
    My fifteen minutes of writing
    Has turned into five..

    • At Home With Grandma

      Nice! cute and catchy, and a good reminder for us all.

  5. At Home With Grandma

    “I don’t even particularly like the word “failure.” It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It sounds like a bad word. Failure.”
    This is my favorite quote from this article. I don’t handle failure well, I’ve seen too much of it in my almost 60 years. I like your upbeat attitude about not reaching your goal. Right now, I feel like, as long as I get some writing in each day, whether it’s 15 min to a few hours, I feel successful. I’ve put off this desire to communicate in writing for too long. Stops and starts, allowing life to get in the way, not pushing myself enough to just do it, have all kept me silent too long.

    • RAW

      I have never understood why we even have the word “failure”. Failure is how we learn. We can’t learn how to succeed if we are not allowed to fail.

      After testing thousands of light bulb filaments, Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter if he felt like a failure because none of them had worked. Edison replied that he was not a failure. He now knows a thousand ways NOT to make a light bulb.

      In my mind, we have to fail before we succeed, and in doing so we will be able to treasure and appreciate our success all the more because we know what it took to get there!

  6. Jeff Van Stee

    I try to write everyday, but as you all know life has a habit of getting in the way. How do you all write? Computer, type writer or maybe long hand? I use all three still. Mostly though I use my laptop or longhand.

    • Bruce Carroll

      Almost all of my writing is done on my laptop. I have a way of losing notebooks, no matter how carefully I try to file them.

  7. Debra johnson

    I didn’t finish mine either, but I did learn something… Even though the story started in a whole different place … I can tell this story may not get finished. But its something I can place in my practice folder and use it to practice writing with. Because I do like the characters and story,,, I can have fun writing and practicing with it.. and who knows… maybe it will be a finished product one day.

    I am currently working on a collections of short stories… ( from a group of many lessons from here.)

  8. Ashley Hampton

    I decided to do the practice and work on a story that I’ve been trying to write for quite some time now. Everytime I set down to work on it I get distracted by something else or just can’t concentrate long enough. But today I carved out the fifteen minute time limit and wrote without distraction. Here’s what I came up with:

    I was seven years old when my grandfather first told me the legend of the Moon People. He spoke of how they had originated in the Great Smokey Mountains, and for centuries had lived in the woods, traveling all around the world. I would listen in fascination as he shared stories about their magical abilities, only interrupting periodically to press him for further details.
    Once during one of his stories he showed me a tiny bed made from twig’s and twine that he swore to have fashioned for the Moon People. I stared at the tiny bed in disbelief, astounded at the fact that a Moon person could actually fit in it. The bed was no more than seven to eight inches in length, and just over four inches wide. I found it hard to believe that such a tiny being existed. But believe I did. At least at that time in my childhood I did.
    As I grew older though my belief in such magical beings began to slip away. I quit listening to my grandfather’s stories with fascination. I quit believing with such certainty, and as he would tell his stories I would find my mind drifting, tuning out his countless recollections of the Moon People he had met as a child.
    But just a few short years later I would regret those decisions. I would wish that I had listened more attentively to my grandfather’s stories. I would regret that I quit believing in his stories, and more importantly that I quit believing in him, for I too would encounter those magical beings known as the Moon People.

    • Bruce Carroll

      Nice intro. Can’t wait to read the rest!

    • Ashley Hampton

      Thanks Bruce! I’m looking forward to your next chapter of Akkiko!

    • Bruce Carroll

      Aww, shucks. I hope it doesn’t disappoint!

  9. Jason Bougger

    In writing fiction, I view “failures” as experience points.We’re in the business of collecting “No”s and every “No” we receive is an opportunity to learn and improve. You can’t take rejections personally, and you can’t let them get you down, or you won’t make it in this business. Thanks for a great, positive post 🙂

  10. J. S. Pan

    Both failure and success are part of the process. The process of learning. This is how I view failure and success. I don’t always stay wise and cool, but I try to.

  11. Bruce Carroll

    Failure is quitting. As long as we don’t quit, there is no failure. Sure, there will be setbacks. We may even take some time off (which is different from quitting). But there is no failure.

    How many times must a tightrope walker stumble before he is ready to perform thirty feet in the air with no net? Those stumbles weren’t “failures,” they were just something he had to work through until he achieved his goal. It is the same with writing. Missing a deadline isn’t a “failure.” Missing a deadline for one book may give the writer enough material and thinking time to create three novels. One could hardly call that a failure.

  12. Diane Cecilia de la Cruz

    Failure is part of success. It should be a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block. Failure lets you know that you’re not good enough YET, not that you’ll never be good enough. It shows you the areas you need to improve on. It is a teacher, not an enemy.

    Having said that, I’m still scared to fail sometimes. I guess it’s normal. But we must always act despite our fears. We can turn fear into excitement by focusing on what we want to happen and not on what we don’t want to happen.



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