November is officially over—to those of you who won NaNoWriMo, CONGRATULATIONS!!! That is an amazing accomplishment, and so exciting.
To those of you who tried but didn’t succeed… CONGRATULATIONS!!! That is still an awesome accomplishment, and anyone or anything that makes you feel differently is just wrong. Whether you fell short by one word or 49,999 words, you still tried, and that’s the start of everything.
(Consider all the people… like me, who thought of doing it but never wrote a word… that’s ‘failure.’)
We hear a lot of stories, often in commencement speeches, of successful people who failed and failed and failed before making it. Their tales of failure and how it strengthened them is meant to strengthen us when we fail.
But they’re already successful. Their failures are ensconced in hindsight and nostalgia. The stress and doubt and shaky finances are long gone in a sea of success (though no doubt new stresses have arisen).
My point is that these stories still create the narrative that failure is okay—if it leads to success.
But what about failure before the success, when the success is nowhere in sight and may never come? What about failure in the complete absence of success?
I don’t think you should ever give up on the potential of success, and that’s what a lot of those stories are meant to teach us. But I also think there’s another important narrative we should celebrate as a culture—the art of the try.
Even people who stand up and say, “I tried and I never made it,” have done something wonderful. They started. They created. They took a chance. They put themselves out there. They opened themselves up to the universe.
I could find some story, such as that of Vincent Van Gogh, about someone who never found success in their lifetime but because they tried anyway, we are left with their beautiful body of work… but that’s still a story which only validates their attempts because they were eventually successful.
I have a personal story of someone whose artwork was found after they had died, and whether they dreamed of success and artistic glory or not, I don’t think they’ll get there. Their art is beautiful, and treasured by their family, but it won’t hang in a museum. They never made a penny from it (that I know of), and their family never will. Their name will only be remembered by their beloved children and grandchildren.
In the game of artistic success alone, they tried and they… failed (though, to be fair, I’m not sure they ever actually sought any sort of artistic ‘career’). But the important thing is that they tried. That we have their artwork when we could have had nothing. And I hope that they found fulfillment just in the act of creating itself, even if no one else validated it for them.
So even if you’re sure that story will never make it, even if you know you can’t write 50,000 words in a month, even if you can barely string a sentence together but you dream of book spines decorated in your name—try. It’s where everybody starts, and where everyone can succeed.