Failure. It’s part of life, but even after 50 years, it still doesn’t seem to be any easier to swallow the bitterness as it’s shoved down my throat.
That really is the wrong attitude. I just said, ‘it’s part of life’, but clearly, I still dread it.
We’d all be much better off if we learned…To stop fearing failure.
Because as I’ve already noted, it’s part of life. Because if you’re not failing, then you’re not trying. Because failure teaches us so much more than success ever could. Failure makes us try harder, and do better.
I want to share with you what I learned my favorite panel at the Austin Film Festival, Turning Failure into Success. Whether you’re a writer or not, there are many valuable takeaways here.
It was a powerful 75 minutes for me. I walked into that workshop broken after not making it back to the finals of the Austin Film Festival’s Pitch Competition like I did in 2005 (full story on that: Pitching Pennies at the Austin Film Festival).
But, I left the workshop feeling whole. That’s quite a transformation in a short period of time.
Here’s the panel overview from the conference brochure that enticed me to attend:
Turning Failure into Success: “Uncover mistakes and missteps made by some of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters and how they used these hardships as major learning opportunities. In an industry wrought with ‘no’s’, learn how to overcome rejection and turn failure into success.”
Holly wood Panelists
Writer/producer: Empire (TV); writer: Our Family Wedding.
Writer: Hulk, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Crow; Stairway to Heaven (TV) MacGyver (TV).
Co-Writer: National Treasure, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Co-Writer: National Treasure, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
FYI, I’m not quoting people exactly below. It’s each question, plus a summary of their remarks from my hodge-podge notes.
What’s One of Your Most Cringe-Worthy Failures?
Wibberleys: One movie exec actually fell asleep during our pitch meeting. The other execs seemed embarrassed by him and we all pretended it wasn’t happening, but it was so humiliating.
Turman: I was in a pitch meeting for Hulk and it wasn’t going well. The movie exec didn’t like my concept of my main character, so I tried to turn it into a positive. I asked him, “Who are your heroes?
He said, “I’m not one here begging for a f*****g job.”
I left, chalking it up as a failure, until the next day when I got the job.
Spellman: My biggest failure came after I broke out. I’d worked my way up and was hot s**t in town, then suddenly, nobody would return my calls. That was worse than breaking in. After it happened, I went on a four-year cold streak. The only thing that saved me was writing.
Different Levels of ‘Failure’ in Hollywood
*At first, nobody will even take your phone call.
*Then, they’ll take a meeting with you, but you sell nothing.
*You sell a couple of scripts, but they never get made into movies.
*They buy your script, but fire you as the writer (this is still considered to be a success because you got paid).
*You have some successes, followed by a dud at the box office. Suddenly, you’re nothing again. You’re only as good as your last film.
*You need the world’s thickest skin for the movie biz.
Dealing with Criticism
Wibberleys: We consider the spirit of the notes about your story. If they seem genuine, we’ll look at the criticism. If they’re snarky, we ignore them.
Turman: When someone tells you ‘something’s wrong’, they’re almost always right. When they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. Trust your gut.
How Do You Survive Failure?
Wibberleys: The only way to survive failure is to write. Don’t keep writing the same story over and over. Write that story, then move on to the next. You grow as a writer with each new story.
Turman: All those NO’s you hear? They’re part of the process. It only takes one YES to make it happen. Keep going.
Spellman: After my agent dumped me, I got involved in an online writing community. Being with other writers saved me.
Wibberleys: Failure hurts. It’s a gut punch. Give yourself 48 hours to mourn, then look at what’s next? Start the next story with hope it’ll be your best yet.
Turman: I love writing. I just hate the actual writing.
Advice to Your 20-year Old Self?
Spellman: Get involved in a writing community. Whether it’s in person or online, surround yourself with like-minded people. They help you remember why you love telling stories.
Turman: No matter what, keep writing. You’re going to go through multiple ups and downs in the business. Keep writing. Also, you’re not above any job. If it’s involved with writing, you’ll learn from it – do it.
Wibberleys: We keep saying this, but STOP rewriting the same story. Write it, finish it, then write something new.
Spellman: Whether you believe in yourself, or not, keep writing. Whether anyone’s returning your phone calls, or not – write anyway. It’s all about the stories.
Do you see why I floated out from this workshop? Suddenly, my little ‘not making to the finals’ was put into perspective. It was nothing, just a stumble on my journey. I was a bad-ass for even trying. I picked myself up and moved onto what’s next?.
Writing Wisdom: Chasing fame and fortune are empty pursuits. You must write because you’re a writer. Do it because you love telling stories.
Life Lesson: The only failure is quitting. Sometimes, we face obstacles and must decide, “How bad do I want this?” No matter what it is in life, every NO takes you one step closer to that almighty YES. Never give up.
Good luck with the ups and downs in your world.
How do you overcome failure and setbacks in life?
Please leave comment. Let’s talk.
Hello Marcy, I see were still both on the planet, Thanks for your email, nice to here from you.
Hi there, Gary.
Yes, we’re both still here on the plant. Great to see you. Hope you’re doing well.
Hi Marcy, I do so much appreciate you for sharing your experience from the Austin Film Festival. Failure huh? Well, I’m not so much the peel me off the floor, cry for days and days type of person. Experience has taught me that adversity is really a blessing turned inside out. You said it yourself–failure teaches us. The best thing that I do when failure disappoints me is not to allow it to taunt me. You know how we replay it over and over and each time we do, we fail again. I have to get ugly with myself when the recording wants to start up and say, “Stop it bitch–go write it.” You should see my bitch papers, maybe I should write a book on that. By the way I love Pennies and I’m intrigued that the setting is in a cemetery. I’m a fan of cemeteries and the older the more I like them. Like I said I love Pennies and I’m sure many others do too. Shouldn’t that count for something?
Marcy Mason McKay
Wow, Suzana! You have so many gems in here, I don’t even know where to begin!
LOVE this, “Adversity is really a blessing turned inside out.” So true, and so powerful.
This, too, “You know how we replay it over and over and each time we do, we fail again.”
That’s 100% I did back in 2005, but not this time. I was in a funk for about 21 hours, then let it go.
I’m so grateful you love Pennies (and are into cemeteries, too). I’m so grateful readers like you are loving it. That is DEFINITELY worth something. Thanks so much!
I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it… you are a winner in my eyes and indeed heart. You’re anything BUT a failure! You’re such an inspiration sweetheart, and for that I can’t thank you enough.
Marcy Mason McKay
Thanks so much, Em. No need to worry about me on this subject anymore because I’m GOOD. I just published this post because I’d promised everyone I’d shared the info that helped me get my mojo back.
ONWARD! Thanks for all your love.
Thanks for the email McKay and this was a good read for a writer and I appreciate the information. Rejection is a hard pill to swallow but this was great encouragement. I have not written a story since 2004 and during that time one of my characters died who was actually a guy that prompt me to write the story. Although, I know I didnt kill him it made me say maybe my stories shouldn’t end with someone dying. However, I have not written another story because of that story. After reading your message a lot helped but the main message for me is you saying , “Wibberleys: The only way to survive failure is to write. Don’t keep writing the same story over and over. Write that story, then move on to the next. You grow as a writer with each new story.”
This was for me because I have a few stories since my last story but I needed that, “Write the story then move on to the next and grow from each story.” You said, it and i needed it.
Thanks for sharing, I am no professional but the desire is so there to write. Thanks so much.
Oh, Gina…I’m so glad my post touched you so deeply. I truly believe it’s time for you to return to writing and write a NEW STORY. That’s the mistake I made…I wasted a DECADE rewriting the same novel. I wrote it in first person, then third person. The point-of-view wasn’t the problem, the problem was the story just plain sucked. But, you know what? I needed to write that story, or Pennies from Burger Heaven wouldn’t exist today.
The Wibberleys joked, “We sound like a broken record, but stop rewriting the same story!”
We need to write each word to grow stronger in our craft. Every professional started just where you are, with nothing but the desire to write. I hope you’ll honor your hunger to tell new stories.
This is a great and encouraging post. I have a thought regarding something you shared that I suggest could be reframed. Here’s the quote:
“Suddenly, my little ‘not making to the finals’ was put into perspective. It was nothing, just a stumble on my journey.”
I suggest it was not a stumble at all, but merely a step that needed to be taken to explore a direction. I recently went hiking at Clifty Falls State Park in Hanover, Indiana. I took a trail that I thought would return me to where I’d parked my car, but it didn’t – it was a deadend. I retraced a few steps to another trail on the map and made my way back to my car. It was a longer walk, but that was cool. It was a beautiful fall day, I had plenty of water, and the deadend gave me a gorgeous view of primeval forest and creek bed at the bottom of a 200-foot gorge.
Your trip to Austin was no stumble. In fact, looking at the outcome of attending this one workshop, I would suggest it was one of the smartest steps you could have taken.
Which is what I think your post says.
Thanks for sharing your hiking story, Bruce. It’s interesting that you made this point because originally I didn’t have the ‘stumble’…I had ‘a necessary part’ of my journey. Then, I changed it. I believe I had it right the first time.
Regardless, I appreciate your comment. I like how zen you are….I need that. 🙂
I see your notes from a perspective as those of us who are not writers but in a work-a-day world. Failures are commonplace. Excuse my bluntness but one awe shit wipes out a whole lot of atta girls in the minds of others, biut we can prove that mindset wrong! In my career, I experience this every single day. No matter the end result there is always someone who finds the fault without mentioning the glory of our accomplishments. And I have not been fired yet. As your notes pointed out, all we can do is pick ourselves up each day and strive to do better, start again. At the end of a day we must assess our accomplishments no matter how small they may seem. Because after all, life and life’s experiences are all about putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the adjustment in attitude that changes our altitude. Keep going, Marcy. The cumlative effort will pay off.
Clearly, you know hard work, Emily. I love this thought of yours, “It’s the adjustment in attitude that changes our altitude.”
I’ll keep going and hope you will, too. It truly is the cumulative effort that pays off. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
I think for most of us, writing is a very personal, soul-baring process. Soliciting feedback (aka criticism) is almost like standing your child up in a room full of strangers and asking for their assessment. I love your fire that allows you to put yourself out there. That alone, in my book, is a “win”. And I agree with you…if you’re not failing, you’re not moving forward. Stagnant is an unpleasant state. Great pointers here. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your brilliance.
Thanks so much, Rhonda. Risky yourself in life is so scary, but not trying is even worse. Stagnant is an unpleasant state, but if done for too long it’s like a death sentence. I’m far from brilliant, but I just really believe in the power of community. xo – m3
Marcy-love your work and love your heart! Hope we can visit about writing soon. Keep up your incredible work!
Well, hello there, Ms. Wilkerson. GREAT to see you here on my blog. I’d love to talk about writing soon. Let’s do it. Thank you for all your encouragement. M3
A lot of good advice in this post, Marcy. Thanks for sharing. I look at failure and success differently. The success gives me a boost and while I’m happy to have wins, I don’t get nearly as much out of successes as I get out of failures.
Yes, failures give me a boost. After the initial WTF moment, the first question I always have is “where did I go wrong”, followed by “what do I need to do to fix it”. I view failures as learning opportunities; how can I feel bad if I’m learning something new or rehashing something I should have known and didn’t understand the first time?
Thanks for this post! Loved it.
Marcy Mason McKay
Geez, Mollie, what a wonderfully healthy attitude you have about failure. I want to more like you. I like how you see failure as a wise teacher who teaches you and helps you grow.
I want to be more like that because, seriously, how can you feel bad if you’re learning something new. Thanks enlightening me. xo – m3