10 Valuable Lessons Writers Can Learn From Failure

learn from failure - man at computer

In December of 2009 I decided to undertake a lofty challenge – to create a website/blog in one week and get 100,000 unique visitors within a week of launching it. I knew it was possible, and the sheer enormity of it was exciting enough for me to go ahead with the project.

I created the Art of Blog “One Week Challenge.” Along the way I wanted to share everything I knew about creating a world-class website. The plan was to launch a photography site called Hot Shot Photo and detail the progress as I went along.

I failed at what I set out to do.

However, I learned many valuable lessons along the way and I want to share them with you:

1. It doesn’t matter where you start, just start

One of the biggest obstacles to my online career has always been inaction. I would read dozens of blogs and countless articles about “how to do this and that”, amass great knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, and generally fill my head with enough blogging/business ammunition to do anything I set out to do.

The problem was that none of it mattered one bit if I didn’t put it to use. The sheer number of possibilities and options had become paralyzing and at the end of the day I would end up doing nothing.

The key was to start. Something. Anything. So I decided to move on something that really inspired me – the desire to share everything I’ve learned over the years and undertake a huge challenge. I took the first step. That’s what really mattered.

Takeaway: All there ever is – is to start. Start somewhere. Start with something that inspires you.

2. Timing is crucial

Like in comedy, timing is everything. One of the biggest mistakes I made was creating this challenge right before Christmas.

There were fewer people tweeting, a lot of the world was distracted by the holidays, and it was more difficult to gain traction during such a quiet time in the tweetasphere / blogosphere.

When Christmas came around, I focused on my family and friends and let the project take a back seat, weakening its momentum.

Takeaway: Be aware of what’s happening within the time frame that you set out for yourself. Avoid predictable distractions and conflicts.

3. You know a lot more than you think you do

I came to this realization after about the 10th video I published. I realized how much there is to know about blogging. Even though I had been putting out a ton of information out there, I was only beginning to scratch the surface.

When we’re caught up in what we do and what we’re interested in – almost every day of our lives – we forget just how much we know about the topic of our expertise.

I would be willing to bet that you highly underestimate what you know. Once you start putting it out there, whether in video form, through writing, or whatever – you will realize just how much you know.

Takeaway: Become aware of what you know – and realize that you have a lot to share with the world.

4. Get people involved

No man is an island. It became a lot easier to continue working when I had support and interest from my friends and colleagues. Not only did they encourage me along the way, but I was able to get them emotionally vested into the project by asking for their feedback.

People who found the project interesting would retweet and share it with their friends. When I mentioned them in the posts or asked for their input & help – then published posts and videos – they were vested into the project and would help spread the message.

Their input was helpful, and so was their desire to spread that which they helped co-create.

Takeaway: Ask people for feedback along the way, attribute their contributions, and they will be more likely to help you spread your message.

5. Put yourself out there

A good friend of mine Vo Megastar always says “put yourself out there. go hard. and someone will notice.”

A lot of people fear being seen. Mostly because they fear failing and being seen as a failure. If you can just take a look at that fear – accept that it’s there – and act anyway, you will be ahead of most people.

You have a unique life experience that no one else has – you have unique combinations of knowledge and a personality no one else has. Don’t be afraid to share that with the world. You will connect and make a difference to people who can identify with your style.

When I first started recording videos, there was that fear of “being seen” that eventually lessened. If you take a look at videos of people starting out, you will usually see then being somewhat uncomfortable in the first minute or so before they settle in and start talking like themselves. It’s ok – we all have that.

Takeaway: Just put yourself out there. You are great just the way you are. And you’ll be surprised at all the positive feedback people will give you.

6. Keep it Simple

One of the things that derailed the project was the complexity of it. People were confused about the concept. The series on Art of Blog was meant to be a behind-the-scenes series detailing the creation and launching of Hot Shot Photo. It was a website series about another website.

A lot of people thought that Art of Blog was the website that the challenge was about. It created a lot of confusion.

There was also confusion about what the “One Week” meant. Was it build and get 100,000 visitors all in one week? Was it build a site in one week, then reach that goal in the following week? To be quite honest, I didn’t define that clearly (even for myself) from the get-go, which fueled this uncertainty.

Takeaway: Define your purpose or goal in super clear terms, and keep it simple, right from the start.

7. When you fail, own up

If you set out to accomplish something and don’t fulfill it – don’t run and hide and hope no one else will notice. Always own up to it.

Own whatever it is you do – the successes, and even more so the failures. Everyone knows what it’s like to fall short. You will get a lot more respect from people when they know you have nothing to hide.

Takeaway: Own everything you do, whether it’s positive or negative.

8. Failure is never failure

Failure by itself never really happens. It is only when you accept that something failed, is it ever failure in reality. You can just as easily look at what opportunities present themselves from the wake of that which you didn’t accomplish. Wired recently ran a whole series of stories about failures that later turned into huge opportunities for many famous actors, politicians, and thought leaders.

Action begets opportunity. Even action that “fails” ends up opening more possibilities and opportunities that present themselves.

Takeaway: Always keep moving, embrace failure, and see where you end up.

9. You Never Know Where it Will End Up

Part of the fun of launching a project is that you never know where it will end up. Be open to that – give up control and see where that ride takes you – and most importantly – enjoy it along the way.

One of the great things that came out of this entire series is this post itself – the one you are reading right now. I got connected to Mary and we discussed writing this very post.

Here I am – a while later – writing this post on a very prominent website, sharing what I learned. Did I know this would happen along the way? No, but it’s wonderful.

Takeaway: Keep your mind open and embrace the opportunities that present themselves along the way. Embrace new directions.

10. Don’t Take it All So Seriously

At some point throughout this whole process (especially when I ended the challenge and changed direction) I found myself worried about what it will all look like.

Then I took a a step back and remembered why I was doing any of this in the first place. I want to have fun and create a life of freedom for myself, where blogging is just one aspect of my own self-expression. I want to help people out – and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

It’s important to step back and keep it all in perspective. Why are you blogging? Why are you writing? What got you into this in the first place. By all means, come through on your promises to people and keep true to your word, but remember to have fun along the way.

Takeaway: Win or lose, have fun and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Don’t take it all so seriously.

About the author

Markus Urban

Markus Urban is a lifestyle designer, travel show host, cat herder, and entrepreneur who can't keep still (except when meditating). He runs a series of sites about blogging, technology, photography, and unconventional living. Follow his lifestyle adventures on Twitter.