I love tennis. And of course I love Paris. So when the French Open happens every year, I get excited. I’ve been immersed in watching the matches, loving that my favorite player, Roger Federer, has won so far and enjoying the wildness of the crowds every time Frenchman Benoit Paire plays. This weekend a particularly wonderful highlight for me was watching Swiss player and ethnically Polish guy Stan Wawrinka play Stefanos Tsitsipas. It was an epic match that lasted five hours and five sets.
At 34, Wawrinka’s considered a senior player, and yet he’s playing his highest level of tennis ever. Because he’s an athlete who won Grand Slam tournaments later in his career, I find his journey interesting. It reminded me how anyone who works hard enough and is willing to endure long enough can succeed. This includes artists and writers. A writer works to perfect their art or craft and tries to share it with the world, only to often meet with rejection or indifference. The attempt can be a failure. We can feel like losers. But Wawrinka has an interesting perspective on failure. What he had to say is my quote of the week:
As a tennis player, you have to get used to losing every week. Unless you win the tournament, you always go home as a loser. But you have to take the positive out of a defeat and go back to work. Improve to fail better.–Stan Wawrinka, tennis champion
The other day I was researching famous American inventors and came across this quote about failure from Thomas Edison. It struck me as perfect for a writer. We often submit our work for publication only to be rejected again and again. In other words, we fail all of the time. If we’re experienced, we get better at not taking the sting of rejection so personally. In fact, we can use the failures to change and better our writing. We can submit different drafts, different pieces. Edison apparently had mastered this practice as he looked at his failures not as failures but as “10,000 ways that won’t work.” What a brilliant perspective. It instantly removes the personal and keeps the focus on the work. A lesson any creative person can use.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
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In an interview in Novel Voices, author Richard Bausch talks about how emerging writers must accept failure as a destiny. Rejection stings. We often feel as if we are the lone person whose work is rejected. But it’s a much more universal and integral experience than that, so much so that Bausch believes it’s imperative writers make it a part of their life outlook.
In the interview, he says, “If you’re not scared, there’s something wrong with you. Your talent will be tested, and you have to be willing to accept failure as a part of this. You say, ‘I accept failure as my destiny’ the same way you say, ‘I accept death as my destiny.'”
Failure: A Part of Life
I thought these words were profound and accurate. Failure is a part of the writer’s life. It’s inevitable. It’s what’s meant to happen. Get used to it. It becomes a fundamental piece of the journey, just as death is a fundamental piece of life. We try and we will fail. Rejection happens. That means we must try again — and again. Perhaps we must constantly assume we will fail so that when we succeed we’ll feel pleasantly surprised. In some ways, the idea is very Buddhist. Our first principle, our first rule, is that the writer’s life equals suffering. By keeping that in mind, we can cultivate gratitude and therefore, happiness with each small success. This makes sense I suppose since a writer’s solitary, humble, silent life is similar to a monk’s anyway.
Read Richard Bausch’s Ten Commandments for Writers. It will help you with rejection.
Have you been dealing with failure or rejection lately? Tell me about it in the comments below.