The Two BEST Reasons to Fail as a Writer

by Guest Blogger | 94 comments

I can produce my blog posts, copywriting or magazine articles on time and in abundance. No problem. However, I'm turtle s-l-o-w in writing my novels. In eighteen years, I've only completed four—all still unpublished. To me, only the last two are worthy to be on a bookshelf; the first two were teaching me how to write.

I’ve always sort of felt like a loser writer because of this, but a recent epiphany taught me why failure in your writing is good…

failure is good for writers

What Pixar Has to Say About Failure

I read the book Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It was fascinating to learn how they created Toy Story, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles and so many other animated movies I love. They are master storytellers.

Catmull says:

The process of developing a story is one of discovery…. While the process is difficult and time consuming, the crew never believed that a failed approach meant that they had failed. Instead, they saw that each idea led them a bit closer to find the better option.

No matter how hard I plot or outline ahead of time, my novels do not flow from me in an easy, A-Z fashion. My books feel more like I'm assembling a jigsaw puzzle without the box top showing the final photo. Even worse, there are countless extra pieces I do not need and must discard along the way. My stories feel more like trial and error.

Creativity, Inc. says it’s not failure to take years to write a novel or anything else, with endless scenes discarded along the way.

That is the writing process.

Lose Your Failure Baggage

Catmull says:

For most of us, failure comes with baggage—a lot of baggage—that I believe is  traced directly back to our days in school. From a very early age, the message is drilled into our heads: Failure is bad; failure means you didn't study or prepare; failure means you slacked off or—worse!—aren't smart enough to begin with. Thus, failure is something to be ashamed of.

Maybe we should unlearn what they taught us in the classroom in order to write better. Each time you hit a dead end in your story, or discover something you thought was right with your plot no longer works, then CELEBRATE!

You're one step closer to your true story.

With writing, you are creating something from nothing. That is both thrilling and terrifying (T2), which is exactly how it should be.

The Best Reasons to Fail as a Writer

Creativity, Inc. has an entire chapter entitled, Fear and Failure. Here are my two favorite take-aways on the subject.

1. Fail early and Fail Fast

The book compares failure to learning to ride a bike. You topple over and scrape your hands and knees multiple times before you can balance and pedal in rhythm together. Mistakes are part of the journey.

The same is true for writing.

“The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren't experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it…this strategy dooms you to fail.”

Stop panicking that you’re doing it all wrong.

You’re not. Keep writing.

2. Failure is Inevitable

Most see mistakes as a necessary evil, in writing and life. Catmull contends mistakes aren't evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new, which is valuable because without those mistakes, there's no originality and that's what storytelling is all about.

“The concept of zero failures with creative endeavors is worse than useless. It's counterproductive….experimentation in your story is seen as necessary and productive, not a frustrating waste of time.”

Uncertainty is part of writing’s magic and mystery. Quit fretting because any outcome is a good outcome. Failure in your writing is good.

How have you failed as a writer? What failure baggage do you need to unload to achieve more writing successes? Share in the comments section.


Spend fifteen minutes free writing a scene about a character failing at anything (his job, her marriage, their lives). When you’ve finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you share, please be sure to give feedback to your fellow writers.

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  1. Krithika Rangarajan

    Marcy – lovely! I need to pick up this book now. The following quote made me smile so wide my cheeks are hurting 😉

    ““The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it…this strategy dooms you to fail.”


    Thank youuuuu #HUGSSSS


    • Marcy Mason McKay

      I KNOW, Kitto!
      I felt the SAME WAY about that quote. Do buy that book. Even though hardback costs more, I highlighted so many passages like crazy. It was fascinating to learn about the creative process from such storytelling masters.
      Thanks for stopping by TWP and making me smile!

  2. Joy

    Wow! This is very helpful. Thank you!
    For about a year I’ve been attempted a novel. I’ve tried many drafts on it (even did NaNoriMo), and each one has gotten a little better, but still shoddy. Here are some of the things that I failed to achieve on previous attempts:

    1) I didn’t have a good premise, plot structure, or idea for where the story was going (totally pantsing while roughly using real-life experience as an outline)
    2) A subplot took over my main plot, because my main plot of boring (Duh! lol)
    3) I didn’t give my protagonist enough flaws (which made her basically a static characters)
    4) I didn’t add enough real drama, so melodrama took over.

    Sounds pretty bad, huh? 🙂

    Writing down these “failures” has helped me to pinpoint things that I’ve learned and don’t want to repeat. I don’t regret the previous drafts. They’ve made me a better writer and shown me how much I still have to learn.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Hi, Joy,
      It’s great to see you here. Creativity, Inc. talks about how it takes them YEARS to find the right storyline for their movies. YEARS.
      Ed Catmull would say you haven’t done one thing wrong, or failed a bit. I know we’re all supposed to crank out a book every five seconds, but you’re still in search of your true story and characters.
      You’ll get there, IF you keep at it and keep writing. Good luck to you!

    • Joy

      You’re amazing, Marcy! Thank you!

    • Adan Ramie

      Keep working, Joy, and you will mine that lump of a story into something that shines.

    • Joy

      Thank you, Adan! You’re encouraging. 🙂

  3. T.O. Weller

    Hi Marcy!

    Thanks for yet another great post. (You really are the “energizer bunny”!)

    I’ve been wondering lately about my writing speed and what it means because, these days, we need to be able to do it all … so that we can get out there, right? Well, when I write fiction, I’m the opposite — it’s super fast. But lately, all of my time is getting eaten up with figuring out blog posts … though I hope that changes as I gain proficiency?

    Another point you make reminds me of my high school teaching days. Being a cog in the system that enforced that notion of failure made me seriously doubt my place within it … which, for that and many other reasons, made me leave it behind.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Wow, T.O.!
      Your insights as a school teacher were eye-opening (and disheartening). See? We really did learn it back in the classroom that failure was bad, wrong and to be avoided.
      That mentality kills our creativity and I’m working VERY hard to lose that mindset.
      So, yes, you will get faster at your blog posts as you gain proficiency. However, you may not ever write as quickly as you do your fiction. That’s not right/wrong, good/bad…it just may be your process. 🙂

    • T.O. Weller

      True enough. I was just listening to Natalie Goldberg comment on her own writing. Essentially, she said the same thing, only for her the struggle is with fiction.

      And, yes, the way things roll in high school these days is just not encouraging for kids. It’s no wonder so many of them come out not wanting to read another book. While I was there, I tried … and the reaction from the staff was not good.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Mmm, I do love Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down the Bones is one of my (and still favorite) writing books. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, T.O.

  4. PJ Reece

    Important post indeed, Marcy. Our society has demonized failure, absolutely. I suppose it would be ludicrous to actually celebrate failure, but I’ve found that failure forces us to jettison parts of ourselves that don’t work anymore. How else do we grow? We grow into adults only because “childhood” doesn’t work for us anymore. Likewise all the best fictional characters jettison outmoded parts of themselves and “grow up.” And audiences swoon with satisfaction. Cheers.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Wonderful thoughts, PJ. And, you’re right. We do demonize failure. Yes, Steve Jobs is the father of Apple, but he had many, many failures along the way.
      We need to cut ourselves some slack as writers and let ourselves make mistakes and failures, so that we can move on and discover what our stories are meant to be.

    • Joy

      Woah! What you said is brilliant: “We grow into adults only because “childhood” doesn’t work for us anymore. Likewise all the best fictional characters jettison outmoded parts of themselves and “grow up.”
      Great comparison!

    • T.O. Weller

      I just wish we could save the parts of childhood that are worth saving: play, exuberance and wonder … how many of us take time to play? How often do we stop to look at something in absolute wonder? I often think my creative flow would be that much greater if my inner child was given more room to come out and just play with abandon, without the fear that someone will stop me and tell me I’m doing it all wrong.

  5. Brian Sommers

    Wow this is so good. I’m glad you feel this way. I thought all along it was just me. Everyday when I get up to write I think, why bother it won’t amount to anything anyways. I guess misery does love company because I feel very welcomed right now.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Guess what, Brian?
      You don’t suck as a writer and I don’t suck either. Yes, some of what we write will suck, or not work for our stories, but the man behind Pixar and Disney said that is part of the creative process.
      In essence, doing it WRONG is RIGHT!
      So, stop beating yourself and write on, amigo. Try to beat yourself up LESS and enjoy yourself MORE! Good luck!

  6. mjh

    Given the recent wage-fixing scandal–for which Ed Catmull refuses to even apologize–I would be a bit nervous about taking any advice he has to give.

    • Karl Tobar

      I feel like the advice is good even if the person isn’t.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Thanks for your opinion. Creativity Inc. gave me several powerful epiphanies, so I’ll still accept the message….even if it comes from an imperfect messenger.

  7. LeRoyce Pearson

    That is certainly an important lesson to learn. If we can’t learn by failing, then how will anything new be done? You shouldn’t aim to fail, but don’t avoid it.

    And I did the practice for today!


    David sniffled as he climed up the wall. It was so tall, so unfair. He would almost reach the top when-


    -He would fall down. It was so unfair.

    David didn’t even try to get up this time. He sat there and silently cried.

    His brother had been able to climb the wall. He was always able to do anything, and David wasn’t. He always end crying.

    *Like a baby.*

    David sat up as soon as the thought ran through his head. He was not a baby! He would climb this wall. He would show George that he could do anything. And then George wold have to be nice, and show David all of his friends.

    David went to the wall and began to climb. He reached for a crevice here, used another as a foothold there. He made his way up slowly, but surely, his confidence never faltering.

    David could imagine it now. George would say he was sorry, show him his mysterious friends. His friends would be nice to him and want to be friends with David and not George. All he had to do was reach that far away crevice and then-

    -David felt himself pitch backwards again. He fell to the ground and just lay there in stunned silence.

    The world was so unfair.

    • Karl Tobar

      This is interesting. I think we all feel like a David at some point. I feel like David whenever I read another author’s work. “How is this person so good? It’s not fair.” It does feel like falling off a wall, sometimes. You just gotta stand back up and keep going!

    • LeRoyce Pearson

      Thanks. I know that I have certainly felt that way before, and expect that I will continue to feel that way.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Nice work, LeRoyce. The world can be so unfair, so I relate to David 100%. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • LeRoyce Pearson


    • Adan Ramie

      I know just what David is going through. I hope that one day he makes it over the wall and realizes that George and his mysterious friends aren’t as cool as he makes them out to be. Great work!

  8. Miriam N

    Thank you Marcy 🙂 You always seem to know what to say. Before I looked back at my writing failures and was hard on myself. How could I be a good writer when I failed so much? Was I missing something? Now after reading this post I look back and see not failure as a bad thing but as a process in which I had to go through to grow as a writer. Learning isn’t a one time thing. It takes time after time after time. In school, failed test after failed test after failed test. You realize that you are missing something, examine it and try again each failure at a time.
    Nobody can learn without failing. Its part of the process. The light bulb, for example, took 1,000 failed attempts! Don’t give up if you don’t succeed at first. Write on. Write on.
    Thanks again for this post Marcy.
    ~Miriam N

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Fan-tabulous, Miriam.

      I loved all your comments, but these struck my heart the most, “Learning isn’t a one time thing. It takes time after time after time…Nobody can learn without failing. Its part of the process.”
      A big HELL YEAH to that! Thanks!

    • Joy

      That is so true, Miriam!

  9. WordyMouth

    Here goes with some practice as challenged above.

    It had happened again. And he feared the result. A near miss or a slip up and the entire room was questioning his ability. More than 30 years doing this job. And yet, he wondered if he really understood how to do it.

    The mistake had happened almost as soon as he made the decision to move forward. A reaction timed wrongly, and if it had not been noticed, he might have been able to correct it. Unfortunately, he was no longer as young as he was once was and others now seemed to be quicker and better able to do the job. They pounced on the mistake faster than a lioness. He was dead before he hit the ground.

    “Let me just try this again,” he said sheepishly.

    “It’s really nothing,” she said.

    “Just give me a minute.”

    “No need. We’ll take it from here,” said finalized.

    Doubt frequented his mind like a sentry on the lookout for raiders. It was hiding in the shadows and it could jump out at any moment. He could pretend it wasn’t there, but the looks on the faces of his coworkers, the bosses, his supervisor made him feel doubt’s presence looming to smack him.

    “Seriously, I can take care of it,” he implored.

    He picked up the box of records and pulled out the misplaced vinyl sleeve. Clearly Stevie Nicks does not belong with Copeland, although, he had been known to drop a needle on both in the same listening.

    “I’ll just move this here,” and he moved the record to the Contemporary Rock section.

    Mistakes will happen and sometimes they result in happy discoveries.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      I really enjoyed this. I felt his anguish, frustration and shame. I’ve lived that situation (more than once), so it resonated with me.
      Well done. Keep writing.

  10. Katie Andraski

    I bought this book and forgot I had it until I looked in the bag last night. This is a great recommendation to read it! Love what you say about failure and how very affirming it is. Thank you for what you’re doing for us.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      That sounds like serendipity, Katie. You just rediscovered Creativity, Inc. last night and here I am talking about it today.
      READ it. You’ll be glad you did.

    • Katie Andraski

      I will do that. I think it is definitely serendipity. I’m looking for a good book to read as I start school…

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      I walked away with several new gems to polish in my mind and hope you do, as well. Happy reading.

  11. Karl Tobar

    “Failure means you’re one step closer to your true story.” There’s a lot of great advice in here. What a breath of fresh air. I failed NaNoWriMo and felt so bad about it that I haven’t written a thing since then. But today I got back on the bike. My 15MP is a bit wobbly, due to having not written in several months, but here it is in all its miserable glory:

    *Okay, Marlon, you can do this. Just like dad showed you.* Marlon stared at the stretch of sidewalk before him. He’d walked it a thousand times before, with the dog, but today, on this particular day in June, when the sun seemed too bright, the trees a distracting shade of green, and a stiff cool breeze threatening to blow harder, the concrete before him stretched from here to infinity. He knew there were ten houses before the end of the block, but there may as well have been a hundred. Today was different because he wasn’t simply walking to the end of the street—today he was going to ride his bike all the way to the other side, and, heaven allow, all the way back.

    *Deep breaths. Hooooo.*

    He squeezed the rubber grips on the handlebars until his fingers turned white.
    *Always mount a horse from the left.* He swung his leg over the seat. One foot on the ground, one foot on the pedal, hands on the brakes, squeezing much harder than was necessary, he anticipated the ride. He feared the very second he took off, the wind would pick up, the sun would flare up and blind him, every tree which loomed
    over his path would tip and crush him dead.

    Of course, as his dad assured him, that wouldn’t happen. But as ridiculous as it seemed, he couldn’t get the imagery out of his head.

    *If something sounds ridiculous,* his dad used to say, *say it out loud. You’ll feel better.*
    Marlon looked at the empty yards, the empty streets, and decided he was alone.

    “If I ride my bike down the sidewalk, I’ll die.” He giggled. “I’ll tip over, fall three feet, and my head will roll right off my shoulders.” Now he laughed. “If I scrape my knee, I’ll bleed and bleed until I turn into a pile of spaghetti.” In a fit of guffaws, he let the bike fall to
    the ground, and put his hands on his knees. “Now that’s stupid!”

    Several minutes later, he regained composure. His stomach muscles were sore, his face muscles hurt, and he decided pain wasn’t so bad. He picked up the bike and stared down the sidewalk.

    “On the count of three!” He swung his leg over once again.

    “One!” He placed a foot on the pedal.

    “Two!” He released the brakes.

    “Three!” And, jumping off the ground, he had both feet on
    the pedals. “I’m doing it!” He pedaled forward. It was wonderful. He was riding
    his bike. Until, from behind him, a voice shouted out to him.

    “Marlon, are you out here?”

    He turned his head around, and in doing so, he turned the handlebars all the way to the left. He immediately crashed into the ground. The side of his face slammed the pavement. The frame landed awkwardly on his leg, crushing his thigh, the pedal digging into his calf muscle.

    “Oh my god, baby, I’m so sorry!”

    “M okfff.” He mumbled from bleeding lips. He lay motionless. The pain was setting in quick, and it was terrible.

    His wife rushed to his side and knelt down. “Oh my God, Marlon, are you okay? Blink once for yes.”

    He tried to speak, but only jumbled nonsense came out; his lips swelled up at an alarming rate.

    “That’s four times this week.” She rubbed his shoulders with her palm. “We talked about this. I can teach Marlon Jr. how to ride a bike. You don’t need to teach yourself.” She kissed his cheek. “I’ll help you inside. Dinner’s ready, and it’s your turn to feed the baby.”

    She helped him to his feet. With an arm around her shoulder, he hobbled to the house. Just before they entered the door, he spun his head around to look at the bike, which lay on the sidewalk. Crashed. Down. A symbol of failure.

    *Tomorrow,* he thought, *tomorrow I’ll stand you up. And I will ride you down the block.*

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      WOW, Karl.
      Forget whatever happened in NaNoWriMo. You my friend ARE a writer. You just need be more like Marlon and climb back on that literary bike again, and again, and again. Keep riding until you reach the end of the block.
      Your true story is out there. I hope you’ll stick with it until you write it.

    • Joy

      Wow. This is really good! For the first 3/4 of the story I thought it was a young boy, so the ending surprised me.

  12. Shari England

    Wow! I needed this article today. It’s true. I do think we pick up those habits of finding failure in ourselves, especially in comparison with others. (and by the way, I never was an A student, except in English and Creative Writing) 🙂 I decided to take a hiatus from serious writing a couple years ago, mainly because I felt there were some issues within that needed resolved before moving forward. I know myself well enough to know that I can rush into something too soon, which often leads to failure. Lessons learned the hard way. I’ve had a couple books rolling around in my head for a while, one being about a marriage on the brink of failure, and how God turned it around gloriously. Below is my 15-minute synopsis of our true story.

    “It was the morning of our 10th wedding anniversary. I should have been on an invigorating search in the bitter cold looking for the perfect gift, but instead, I was numb as I walked through the doors of the courthouse that frigid late October morning. Frigid indeed, but not just because of the temperatures hanging in the low 40s, or even the biting whirlwind of leaves that followed me into the entryway, but because thoughts of what might have been whirled through my mind, paralyzing my already bruised and embittered heart.

    Instead of clinking champagne glasses and swapping gifts that evening, my husband and I were clicking pens and signing divorce papers– canceling any and all plans of which we’d dreamed.”

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Wonderful, Shari. You definitely hooked me. I want to know how two people went from divorce court on their 10th anniversary to a glorious marriage. Well done.
      I’m also glad that my post was good timing for you. I hope you write those books rolling around in your head because odds are, someone needs to read them. Good luck!

    • Joy

      Very good synopsis here, Sheri. This sounds like a wonderful book! I particularly like how you used the cold weather to symbolize the mood.

  13. abuggslife

    That was fantastic. Embrace failure, don’t run from it. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

    I drove straight on to the black line of horizon ahead of me. My hands gripped the wheel, tightening and loosening every three seconds ago as thoughts rolled around my head and despair boiled in my stomach. The road was empty with nothing but the illuminated median strips guiding my escape. My ‘97 toyota, a pack of cigarettes, and a duffle bag with a shirt, two pairs of underwear, and a toothbrush made up the totality of items I owned. I took a swig of beer, finishing the can and threw it in the back of the cab before cracking a fresh one.

    It all came apart so fast. The drinkin, the lyin, the pain…and the boy. I shook the image from my head, wiping the tears trying to escape my eyes. I took another drag on the cigarette dangling from my mouth. The ash hung for a second on the tip of the cig. I hit a bump and down it went, right on my jeans. The stinging pain hit my thigh and I quickly brushed it off. “Son of a bitch, that hurts!” I looked up and saw a wash of headlights looming over me. I jerked the wheel to the right, my head cracked the ceiling as I hit a ditch in the side of the road. Took out a cactus and two rocks before it finally shuddered to a stop amidst a cloud of smoke.

    I sat there helplessly until everything settled in around me. I found the spilled beer on the floor and shook the can to find about a quarter of it left. I took out a fresh cigarette and rolled the window down. Then I gave in, and let the tears rain down my cheeks, laughin the whole time.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Really strong writing. Loved this: “It all came apart so fast. The drinkin, the lyin, the pain…and the boy.”
      The person is on full self-destruct and you took me right there, too. Fabulous! Thanks for sharing.

  14. George McNeese

    I have to remind myself that failure is part of the process. I think where I fail is letting fear of failure get the better of me. In order to be a good writer, and overall, a healthier person, I can’t let fear keep me from doing what I want to do.

    I fear that I don’t have enough experience and expertise to write novels or blog about writing. But, I have to remember that even if no one r ads my work, the real failure comes in not trying.

  15. G.M. Bostart

    Such a great post!

    To answer the question, I did feel like I’m failing, and not just once. The time when this feeling got me the most is when I realized that the short stories I was writing for my blog were complete and utterly garbage. For a couple of hours, I felt like I know nothing about the craft.

    But then it hit me. I KNOW they are garbage. That means I got better and can make them better as well. As soon as this thought emerged in my head, I started a reconstruction mission. I would take all my little stories and make them bigger, better and worth reading. As a side note, there’s nothing wrong with sucking at it either. It’s part of the journey.

  16. Pete Vanderpool

    I don’t mean to get religious on you, but this discussion reminds me of our writing of Equipped to Bless: Finding Relevance in the Stories of Your Life. We blame the Holy Spirit for changing things on us along the way. Failure? well it could be translated as that, but we never thought of it that way. We just took it as mid-course corrections from someone who knew more that we. As it turned out, those who have read the book and given us feed-back tell us it is an amazing inspirational book. Had we tired of the mid-course corrections, or taken the large number of them as a definition of failure, we would not have reaped the neat stories that have found their way into our lives.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Pete – you just get however religious you want to be. I’ve never heard of Equipped to Bless. I just may have to check it out.
      Thanks for your perspective, as well as broadening my horizons with the book suggestion.

  17. EndlessExposition

    “Hey bitch.”

    Alicia sighed and turned her head. I followed her gaze. A group of girls in shrunken
    leather jackets, all tapping on their phones and snapping bubblegum, were looking straight at Alicia.

    “I hate to tell you, Keisha,” Alicia said, “but no matter how many times you call me that, my name is still not ‘bitch’.”

    Keisha flipped her cornrows and snapped her gum. “She think she cute, huh?” All the
    other girls snickered.

    “She ugly is what she is,” another girl muttered under her breath and the others giggled louder. Alicia made a show of rolling her eyes and turned around, looking back at her book.

    “She mad creepy,” Keisha remarked. “All the time she just be sittin’ in the corner, lookin’ at you. If I was a parent I wouldn’t want my kids talkin’ to her.” All the other girls “mmhm”ed and then they started gossiping about someone I didn’t know. I looked at Alicia. She was staring at the book but not reading, her face like stone. *I should ask if she’s okay. But Keisha and her minions are sitting right there, they’ll hear me. Does she even want me to ask? I wouldn’t want pity from someone I met a week ago. I should have said something.* I felt pathetic. *Coward.*

    • Elena

      You grabbed my heart, Endless Exposition. What a powerful response to our “assignment”. I want to know more of your story.

    • EndlessExposition

      Thanks! This comment really made my day 🙂

    • Helaine Grenova

      Wow endless! This sound like something snatched out of the heads of a couple of high school catty girls! I want to know more. What happens to Alicia? does the narrator speak up later on, or does she hang back, content yet disgusted with being a coward?

    • EndlessExposition

      Some of the aftermath of this scene was posted on Always Save the Cat in a Story. And thanks for the lovely comment!

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      You had me, at “Hey, bitch.”
      Bullying is so rampant these days that I really was struck by your story.
      I was never a bully, but I’m ashamed to admit I have more than one memory when I didn’t rise to the occasion like I wish I would…when I considered myself a coward.
      Loved it (though it hurt). 🙂

  18. Elena

    This is my writing assignment. I think it illustrates how I feel when facing all of the new things required of me as an ancient writer dealing with today’s technology. It is my failure:

    Alex had heard that all successful writers acted out certain
    rituals before they began their daily writing. He’d heard that in the olden
    days writers used pens and paper, then typewriters. But now, he had heard,
    writers performed their rituals before sitting down in front of the screen to

    Always the superstitious sort of guy, Alex determined he
    would do exactly what he had read.

    He chose Francios Benedictine’s daily ritual, thinking it
    fit most with his particular quirks. And so each morning for three weeks now,
    Alex set the kettle on to boil, put his Irish breakfast tea in his blue mug
    with the chip on the lip, and did push ups until the whistle signaled the end
    of his exercise routine. Then he poured his cup of tea, satisfied he was primed
    to write the bestseller he always knew would write.

    The ritual completed, Alex sat immobile before the screen.
    It had taken him a long time to decide which chair would be just right, but in
    the end he’d selected the white wooden kitchen chair.

    Seated securely, he raised his hand, slowly, tentatively
    toward the screen. His fingers uncurled as his hand got closer.

    “No, no!” he howled. “Something’s not right!” This happened
    so often, it had become part of Alex’s ritual.

    But on this morning, it so happened that the mail carrier
    had a letter that needed to be signed for, and had come to knock on the door
    looking to get a signature.

    “ Um, sorry to interrupt, but can you sign for this?” the
    letter carrier asked through the open door. Alex shoved the chair back, pushed
    open the screen door, hastily signed his name and then tossed the mail on the
    kitchen table.

    As the mailman went on his way, Alex again pulled his chair
    up to the screen door.

    “I refuse to give up,” Alex insisted, coaxing himself to try
    again to master the mystery of using the screen to write the next New York
    Times best seller.


    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Terrific, Elena. I love how you incorporated the rituals, Alex’s fears and frustrations, as well as his tenacity. I hope he completes that NYT best seller!
      Thanks for the great read.

    • Adan Ramie

      I think we can all relate to this kind of failure. Sometimes it’s best to just get started, even if nothing is right, even if we only write a few words, because that can help us break the spell and move on. Great work!

    • Elena

      Thanks Adan and Marcy. Perhaps you missed that Alex was attempting to write his novel on his SCREEN door? lol. I guess the fifteen minute prompt didn’t give me time to make that clear. His failure stemmed from his misunderstanding that authors use computer screens and not screen doors to write. That’s how dumb I feel sometimes when I am trying to figure out new social and computer things that are so foreign to my way of thinking. Thanks for commenting and for being encouraging.

    • Adan Ramie

      Elena — I did miss that! I think it might have been a combination of the subtlety and my fast reading. It’s much more funny and less sad now that I know he’s so far off base.

  19. billy

    I think it’s disrespectful to heavily quote Ed Catmull in an article with so little original content. Why even bother putting your name on it, McKay? Why bother putting your name on anything? Writing Naked sits on my hard drive only as proof that even on my worst day, I will never publish anything as awful as that. You’re not an asset or resource to writers, McKay. You’re something we should all aspire not to be.

    • Tom Baracus

      I think it’s disrespectful to comment on an article meant to encourage writers for no other purpose than to flame the author. You are not an asset or resource to writers. You are something we should all aspire not to be.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      I appreciate your comment, Tom. Thanks.

    • Helaine Grenova

      Marcy, I appreciate you’re works. Every writer has a specific style and voice. My writing voice is different that Tolkien’s and it is certainly different than Cussler’s. I like both of those writers mentioned above and I like their voice. I do not agree or like every writer’s voice. I dislike Clancy’s works. I could never get into The Hunt for Red October. That does not mean I think he should stop writing. Just because I disagree with his works doesn’t mean he is an awful writer.

      Not everybody agrees with everything. But that doesn’t mean that a disagreement in wording should be used to heartlessly attack a person. I would have addressed this directly to billy, because I believe that he needs to realize that other people have feelings, but unfortunately I can’t right now. A writer writes. That’s that. should we not all focus on making other writers better, rather than tearing them down?

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Thanks, Helaine. I agree with you 100%.

  20. Paul

    Here’s my writing practice exercise. Thank you for your great post!

    With an empty tumbler in his hand, Bob suddenly felt the
    frigid interior of The Doghouse. He sat on a ratty couch, a half-empty bottle
    of scotch sitting on an old milk crate, with the cold settling over him like a cloak
    of ice.

    He hated the doghouse. Of late, it seemed that he had been
    staying here more than usual. But then, Bob thought, he deserved it. Or at
    least Deedee said he deserved it.

    All for what? Giving the new girl a peck on the cheek at the
    office Christmas party? Sidling up to the smoking blonde in the bar afterward? Not
    having a valid excuse for his whereabouts when he stumbled home at 2 am?

    Deedee could be so dramatic. Christ, it’s not that he wasn’t
    content with his marriage. But for the past two years, things had become stale
    between him and Deedee. And didn’t he catch her whispering into David’s ear,
    leaning in close and spilling white wine on his impeccably pressed suit?

    He hated David. Pugnacious, disarmingly handsome, fabulous white
    teeth; he fancied himself a lady-killer. The thought of them together made Bob want to
    puke. But he realized he couldn’t afford to; the bottle of scotch cost a pretty

    Bob sat there, and allowed the cold to penetrate his body. He
    made no move to warm up. ‘I’ll show her’, he thought. How would she feel when
    she cracked open the doghouse door to find my stiff body on the sofa, sitting
    bolt upright, glazed eyes staring back at her?

    She’d probably close the door, trudge through the snow back
    to the nice, warm house, and call David to give him the good news.

    With that unpleasant thought, Bob stirred and poured a full
    glass of Maker’s Mark.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Powerful, Bob. I felt Bob’s emptiness, his cold and his loneliness. That is a very lost man and you portrayed him dead-on.
      Thanks for the great read.

    • Paul

      Hi Marcy!

      Thank you so much for the comments. I appreciate them very much. And thank you for posting such great content. It remains a pleasure perusing your posts!

      Take care,

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      What a nice way to start my day. Thanks, Paul. I feel the same way about everyone here @ the TWP.

    • Adan Ramie

      Wow, Paul. Bob definitely is headed down a dangerous road. You can feel how bereft of insight his life has become, and it makes you wonder where he and Deedee started. Was it good once? Can their marriage be saved? Is he really cheating — and is she? I really enjoyed this one. Good job!

    • Paul

      Hello, Adan~

      Thank you so much for the kind words. And I enjoyed your take on the quintessential femme fatale of your tale; sometimes you may find yourself in the presence of such an exquisite creature, one both entirely wrong…yet someone incredibly tantalizing, a destructive magnetic allure.

      It was a pleasure to read your passages. And now I’m off to read your extended version. Your paragraphs painted perfect visuals!

      Take care,

  21. Grey Gregory

    I spent almost a year on my WIP before starting the rough draft completely over from the beginning a few months ago. Although it’s been slow going, I’m much happier with where my story is headed now, and I’ve been able to recycle plot elements and even text from my first version in a better context. The decision to start over, although it sometimes feels like failure, was one of the greatest successes I’ve had in writing this story.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      They sounds exactly the process described in Creativity, Inc. BRAVO to you for following your intuition!

  22. Helaine Grenova

    Thanks Marcy, I needed to hear this! I have stopped several stories because I hit a dead end and could not come up with a way to continue. Now I will contemplate going back embracing the failure and finding new, less trodden roads. I feel like we as writers have become adept at taking the higher, less difficult road. But as the old Scottish ballad goes “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and Ah’ll tak’ the low road and Ah’ll be in Scotlan’ afore ye.”

    I am guilty of taking the high road, the “easy road” if you will. This often leaves my stories cliched and shallow. Reading you post has helped me discover that the fastest way to the end is actually through trial and error.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Amen, amen, amen. Playing it safe means no originality and our writing comes across as stale.
      Although I’m not sure if trial and error is the FASTEST way to the end with our stories, it absolutely is the BEST way to the end because we’re taking risks, being original and honoring our true voices.

    • Adan Ramie

      I think it’s human nature to try to take the easy road, Helaine. It’s always great to see someone embracing change even though it’s hard. We should all be so enlightened!

  23. Adan Ramie

    I definitely think you’re onto something here, Marcy. Failure hurts; we’re taught from a young age that failure is a reflection of us, and that if we fail often, we can be stuck with that red label like a badge of dishonor. It’s easy to just not try, but it isn’t worth it in the end. Trying and failing is the only way to finally succeed. Thanks for another great post!

    I tried my hand at the freewriting exercise, and this is what I came up with:

    “Hollow Girl”

    If hindsight is 20/20, then I need to get my eyes checked. I’m here again, in this bed with this woman, with my chest caving in and my head feeling like a beehive. The silence buzzes against the inside of my skull, driving me closer to the edge of the bed. She pulls me closer, nuzzling her face into my naked back, and I sigh.

    It’s not like she loves me, and I know that right now; but in a week, or two, or ten, she will call me again, and I will come back. I’ll fall into her arms and believe her lies. Something about her makes me stupid; it’s like the sound of her voice gets me high and I can’t think straight anymore — and I don’t want to. All I want is to be beside her, inside her, mining for something that I know isn’t there, but that I pretend is just hiding. I want her to be real, to be a person with a soul and feelings, but I know she’s a hollow shell.

    A long time ago, before she met me or any of her other lovers, she was a little girl. Maybe she had feelings then, or maybe she was empty all along. She carries a picture of herself at about four years old wherever she goes. It sits in her front pocket with her phone, resting against the thin fabric that rubs her naked pelvis, and rubs off another layer. One day, that picture is going to be blank, just like her heart, and maybe then I will find the courage to decline her call.

    • Helaine Grenova

      I love this passage! It really shows the torment and failure of the speaker. He know something to be true, but still falls for the bluff anyway. Have you considered lengthening this into a short story? I feel that If you added a little backstory and continued on you would have a great story. I would love to see what could happen next.

    • Adan Ramie

      Thanks, Helaine! I’m glad you liked it. I hadn’t really considered it, as it was just a freewriting exercise, but now that I’ve read over it again, I think you’re right. I might have to rework it and post it up on my blog.

    • Helaine Grenova

      I would love to read it! What is the web address for you blog so I can check it out?

    • Helaine Grenova

      Wow Adan. I read it and it is great. That really explains how he wound up in bed with a girl he no longer likes. Good job!

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      AMAZING, Adan! It all blew me away, but here’s what hit me hardest. RE: failure: “we’re taught from a young age that failure is a reflection of us.” You’re so right, if we fail, we act like WE are failures.

      Not true. It just didn’t work out and we need to try again.

      My FAVORITE line from your wonderful story: “All I want is to be beside her, inside her, mining for something that I know isn’t there, but that I pretend is just hiding.”
      We all do that in so many different ways.
      Thanks for your bravery in sharing your work. 🙂

    • Adan Ramie

      Thanks, Marcy. I think that being able to get back up and brush oneself off is absolutely imperative as a writer. There are a lot of potholes along the way, but perseverance will pay off in the end. I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

    • Beckasue

      This was really great. You gave us a complete picture in only a few words. Showed the real essense of this relationship. I was especially touched by the entire last paragraph. And the last sentence. That said it all. Keep up the awesome work Adan!

    • Adan Ramie

      Thanks, Beckasue! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  24. Willson John

    Marcy – lovely! I need to pick up this book now. The following quote provides me motivation to provide another start for my writing career now. I was fails last time but iWrite Professionals provides me another chance and this time I will do that.

    Thanks a lot !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      I’m glad this gave you the kickstart you needed, Willson. Failure is risking to grow and learn and try. Don’t quit. Keep writing.
      Good luck!

    • Willson John

      Thanks !!! I will start writing with, they provide me and many other writers to start their career on-line in the field of writing.

      Thanks again !!!!!!!!

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      AWESOME, Willson. Anything that gets you writing is positive. 🙂

  25. A.E. Albert

    Look how many times Walt Disney went bankrupt!! I think about that in almost everything I do. Failure to me is putting down the pen.

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      That’s a great point about the man Walt Disney himself. And you’re right, our only failure is if we quit writing.
      Really great insights, A.E. Thanks a lot.

  26. Laura Ryding-Becker

    Hi, Marcy, what a great post. Thoughtful and inspiring. We (as a society) absolutely shame “failure”, which is too bad for a couple reasons: First, because, as you point out, Failure is inevitable. Pobody’s Nerfect, right? And second, because “failure” is relative. I especially like “…any outcome is a good outcome.” I must admit, I am a Perfectionist (trying to recover from that!) and I don’t always think that way. I think I will print out that short quote and put it on my wall. It may help in many ways. Thanks, Marcy. 🙂

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Hi, Laura,
      I’m a recovering perfectionist, myself. I really like the perspective that failure is RELATIVE. That’s a big takeaway for me.

  27. Aaron

    A guy is sat on a train looking at a young child reading a book. She looks really into it. That’s great, he thinks. Parents did well to raise her to take an active interest in reading. He sinks back into his chair and looks out the rainy window.

    A few moments pass by and a man shuffles in and takes a seat across from him. He clears his bag out of the way and the man smiles in acknowledgement, our guys smiles back then turns back to look out the window.

    I fail at life, is the thought in his head. I fail at life right now, but I can change. You let people at an office tell you how to manages your life, to put aside any interests outside of office hours unless it is aligned to something they too have an interest in. That thought
    infuriates him, or at least it should. He can feel the gates drawing shut in his mind, and it is an effective strategy by employers to get you to just shut the fuck up and do as they say. It is barbaric. Now he is definitely getting worked up. He had forgotten for so long how to even get angry, to get mad. Get mad you mother fucker, stop being such a pussy with life.

    He accidentally kicks the guy across from him in his mild fit of anger and instantly breaks out of it. Sorry, he smiles again. No problem, smiles back the man. Embarrassed at his jerking action, he notices the man still smiling. Was he just looking up at him again. Is he still smiling from the kicking incident? He is smiling because he is amused by something. Now he feels amused. What is it about him that amuses this other man so.

    The man looks up from his paper. There’s a story in here, says a man was eaten alive by a tiger. He looks up at him. Oh, right. Not much of a story but I thought it would break the ice. Oh right. Hi, I’m John. Hey John, Aaron. They shake hands. I couldn’t help but notice that you were really into your thoughts there. I didn’t want to interrupt you. No you weren’t interrupting me. You seemed to be quite intense. I was just going over some thoughts. I’m fine. It looked it. What was this guy doing? Trying to get into my head?

    Yes I was having a fine time actually until you came along. Woah, sorry, didn’t mean to pry. Was just making chit chat. Right. The two return to their respective positions. The train makes another stop as they sit there is silence, passengers filing in and out. The two sit in silence. As the train makes hay again the man turns back again. Look I didn’t
    mean to offend. You’re just cute, that’s all. Cute? Yeah, I think you’re cute. This
    man doesn’t even know whether I’m gay or not and he has the audacity to
    publicly call me cute? I mean, if it was in another time and place…

    How’d you fancy grabbing a coffee?


    You get off at the next stop?



  1. Failure Can Lead to Success | Tales of . . . - […] […]
  2. Hollow Girl | Flash Fiction Inspired by The Write Practice | Adan Ramie - […] post over on The Write Practice yesterday inspired me to write this piece of flash fiction. The prompt: […]
  3. Why Failure Is Awesome - […] The Two BEST Reasons to Fail as a Writer […]

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