A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Failure by Elli Woollard

I don’t do failure.

By which, of course, I don’t mean that I never fail, but rather that I fail spectacularly badly. Fail again. Fail better. Move on to the next project. Treat all your failures as learning experiences on the road to success. Remember, it happens to everyone else too. Look at the all rejections JK Rowling got.

Blah, blah, blah. I know all that, of course. Which one of us doesn’t? And when you’ve managed to put a failure well behind you they all seem like perfectly reasonable things to say. But when failure has just come and punched you in the face, stabbed you somewhere painful and twisted the knife for good measure, such advice comes across as smug and platitudinous at best, deluded at worst.

Some people of course might take failure easily. But writers, I suspect, are generally a thin-skinned breed. Our ability to write about emotions often means we wear our hearts on our sleeves more than most people. I’m sure mine dangles off my elbow sometimes, like a great lump of offal. The problem being that failure (only perceived failure when you look back at it with hindsight, but real f*cking in-your-face vicious, personally vindictive failure at the time it happens) comes with the territory.

So this is what I do when I fail (and by ‘fail’ I mean that a manuscript I’ve been working on for ages is rejected, or my books aren’t selling well, or everyone apart from me is shortlisted for a prize, or so-and-so has got some massive publishing deal, or everybody hates every single word I have ever written. See, authors are thin-skinned):

  1. Sulk. Not one of your namby-pamby half-baked wishy-washy five minute sulks, but sulking for DAYS. During this time the only things that get any attention from me are my duvet and my cat. Everyone else can sod off.
  2. Scowl. Until I look a bit like I’ve been botoxed, but very, very badly.
  3. Stomp. A herd of elephants is nothing compared to my angry feet.
  4. Fire off several moaning emails, as my agent knows only too well. (Please someone, invent a ‘delete email’ button specifically for authors doing this).
  5. Swear that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever write a single word again as long as I live.
  6. Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate. Preferably dark and bitter, to match my feelings.
  7. Read a good book. Then realise that it’s much better than anything I’ll ever be capable of writing.
  8. Go on Twitter, then see all the wildly successful people on there and stop using Twitter for at least a month.
  9. Chocolate. More chocolate.

And then eventually, when I’ve done all this and more, and am actually having quite a good time under my duvet chomping through bars of Green & Black’s, that big bully failure backs off, like most bullies do in the end. Maybe it wasn’t such a setback, I start to think. Maybe I can learn from it, and fail better next time. Hey, maybe I’m quite good.

But like a pantomime villain, failure, I know, will be waiting in the wings. It will pounce on me again with that evil cackling laugh it has, and thwack me over the head with a frying pan. Because that’s all failure is really: our emotions putting on an act. It’s all subjective. It’s not really real. What failure deserves, in fact, is a big custard pie in the face. If only I had one handy when I needed it.

Elli-013Elli Woollard

At the age of four Elli wrote her first picture book, involving her best friend, a tricycle accident, blood everywhere, and the author emerging as the hero. Several years later she completed an MA in social anthropology, moved out to Thailand, taught herself the language, and has since worked variously as a Thai to English translator, a copywriter for a domestic appliance insurance firm (about as interesting as it sounds) and an assistant editor in academic publishing. Continue reading…


“A simple and witty rhyming text.” — Lovereading for Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well




This entry was posted on December 5, 2016 by .

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