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.

    • Lynn says:

      100,000 visitors within a week! lol Thanks for my daily fix of humor! I’m so glad to see your 10 lessons learned. My philosophy anymore, and it probably took me more decades to learn it then you’ve been alive. (Law of average, no indication of age, except for mine. lol)

      Mechanically, you just can’t get that many visitors in that short a time. I don’t think Acrobat Reader (the most visited website online) could get that many visitors in a week, if they simply switched their website address. The search engines have to find your site, and find all the links to your site to get you high enough into the result pages to get the visitors.

      But, knowing that, and knowing what I’ve learned through failure, I’d suggest nixing “Keep it simple.” What’s the fun in that? lol When I decided to do stained glass, I took your approach and didn’t bother to research and study every single thing before “just do it.” The result was that I had the one piece of glass done and was working on the piece that went next to it, before I found out “you can’t make an inside cut” in stained glass. It’s too complicated, and the properties of glass aren’t supposed to allow for such silliness. Fortunately, that piece I finished before reading that was an inside cut, and I naively pulled it off, simply because I didn’t know I couldn’t. (Hey, the project got finished, but I hadn’t learned enough about the proecess of soldering it together well enough for it to last but a year. THAT was my failure. lol) More of my successes have happened from the sheer naiveness of my plan than any amount of thorough research before trying to do something new. lol

      Thanks for your lessons learned. They reinforce much of what I’ve learned about failure over the years, and this article was so wonderfully written that I’m still smiling. I’m not the only “failure” in the world, but, if we’re honest, no one in the world can say they’ve never failed – including those who never tried.

    • My main question is, what are you going to try next. Are you going to pick a different goal? Are you going to use what you learned and try the same goal again? I want to know what happens next.

    • Catherine says:

      I, personally, liked the point about simplicity because it is something vital for blogging. People l-o-v-e when it’s clear and plain.
      Also, sometimes one really needs to stop, pull down the curtains and think over the very purpose of whatever he’s doing. It should be fun and inspiration! Seriousness is not always helpful =)

      Thanks for the fabulous and helpful post!


    • Every blogger worth their salt struggles with these fundamentals. I’m posting to my blog (scheduled for March 8): your points and takeaways along with a short intro to you and the project and a link back here. Thanks for this fabulous post!

    • Hi Marcus, good post. It was written with honesty and provides readers with encouragement. I enjoyed reading this and wanted to thank you. I love when writers speak the truth from a genuine place rather than write for popularity. Very sincere.

    • Christina says:

      I just launched my blog this week and found this info very helpful– Thanks so much for the great advice!

    • Eric C says:

      @ Markus – I think the number for the goal matters, because if it is unrealistic (and 100,000 AUVs is) then the whole exercise is pointless because it is impossible. I mean, how could you even get that many visitors in a week? You’d have to set up guest posts weeks in advance, etc, etc.

      Also, on a larger level, I wonder how good the content was for the second blog. I mean, this seems like a publicity challenge more than a blogging challenge.

      @ Mary – I’ll be a launching a blog in July, so how will I do it? My goal will be based around a two month window, and my co-bloggers are already planning how we are going to launch it.

      I think setting goals is very important. Unrealistic goals won’t motivate you to reach them. And if a goal doesn’t motivate you, whats the point? So we’re setting bottom level goals, and motivating higher goals. A lot of our goals don’t even involve web stats, but real world acheivements. I’d rather make a goal to get 20 guest posts published; this is something to work for.

      @ James – I agree with a lot of your points. There are two things a successful blog needs, great content and publicity. One without the other is pointless.

    • KLAUS says:

      Hi Markus,

      #5 recording videos is the scariest part, but I am working on it.
      #10 is something I always keep in mind.

      Thanx for a wonderful post!

      Kind Regards,

    • Hugh says:

      Thanks for this awesome post. It’s especially useful for a newbie blogger like myself! One thing I particularly love is in #7 when you say to own everything you do. This is one thing I pride myself on and I wish more people would do – in life in general, not just the blogosphere. The world would be a much better place if we all took ownership of ourselves and our actions.


    • Miguel says:

      Great post. Just the one i was looking for. 🙂

    • James Shewmaker says:

      Mary Jaksch,

      Markus decided that he had failed because “Hot Shot Photo” did not meet certain criteria. His criteria for success was not measured against “The Art of the Blog” but rather was measured against “Hot Shot Photo.”

      The success criteria that are used to build a project or a business should also be the basis of the metrics for measuring the success.

      If a company is promoting a “Value based culture” or a “Brand Culture” but measuring the continued employment of their sales force against Cold Cash, it should be no surprise that the campaign for culture fails.

      If Markus was truly dedicated to Hot Shot Photos success, then he should not have stopped on January 2nd. He should have consistently and persistently provided content which was beneficial to his target audience.

      Go look at the photography website. There are only THREE posts. He posted once on Dec. 21. He posted another time on Dec. 23. He did not post again for a week and a half. Why would that website’s target audience have any interest in a website with NO CONTENT or inconsistent content.

      Keep On, Keeping On


      If you’re on the wrong boat, switch boats and then endure.

    • I suggested to Markus that he should write about his experience. He seemed to be a bit taken aback that I was so enthusiastic about his failure 🙂

      I think it’s great when someone tries to walk in shoes that are still too big! In the longer term, whether we ‘fail’ or ‘win’ doesn’t matter in the slightest. What matters is that we learn from whatever we do.

      I think the reason this challenge blew up in Markus’ face was that the real attraction is his blog “The Art of Blog” (I’m sooo envious of that name…) If the challenge had been to grow this blog really fast, Markus would have stood a better chance.

      I don’t think it worked trying to get people to subscribe to a second blog. For example, I immediately subscribed to “The Art of Blog” but never went to the photography blog.

      My question, if you (who are reading my comment) were to set up such a challenge – how would YOU do it?

    • I learn a lot from you. Thank you for sharing this informative article. Great list and great guide for an internet marketer like me.

    • James Shewmaker says:

      I just took a look at Hot Shot Photo.

      Apparently you only posted THREE postings to the website and then QUIT.

      Success is not counted by the size of one’s initial splash. If all you were into this for was bragging rights concerning how big an initial splash you made, you have not learned enough about persistence, consistency, endurance and long term reliability.

      A web community is not based on how many people “check it out,” a web community is based on how many people “stick with you through thick and thin.”

      For me, Markus, your credibility factor just took a big hit. Maybe you can win me back in the future but its going to require persistence, consistency, endurance and long term reliability.

    • Patricia says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences while growing.I think this quote goes perfectly well.”Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~Sir Winston Churchill. You didn’t loose your enthusiasm so here you are,sharing your feelings w8ith a great community.Greetings from Argentina

    • @Eric: Just a large random number that sounded good. Why not?

      @Paul: “your common sense is somebody’s insight” well said.

      Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. I like the quality of readers on this site – great community.

    • Hulbert says:

      Nice story Mark. I can relate to you because I would always also read articles on how to do this or how to do that, but would find myself never taking action. I was in analysis paralysis mode and totally agree that whatever you have in mind, the best method is just start right away. It’s okay if you make mistakes; as long as you learn from them, you’ll be able to make progress and move forward.

    • Paul Baarn says:

      Number one is me, to the letter. Or it used to be. Now all that is left is to learn how to finish things. On number three I always say: your common sense is somebody’s insight. Only someone else can decide what the value of your knowledge is, for them.

      Thanks for sharing your failure.

    • I love no.1 and no.3

      Getting started was the hardest part for me. I was exactly the same way, absorbing new ideas day after day and never putting them to use.

      I never felt ready.

      Then I realized that I knew everything I needed to do, (no.3), and I knew enough to start a blog about it and be successful.

      And that’s what I did. 🙂

    • Love that you took failure and learned from it instead of sulking or pouting about it. So many people just do the latter. And yeah, I’d love to have 100,000 visitors to my blog in a week. Just sayin’.

    • forgot my site. 🙂

    • Great in every way. Just what I needed today. Thanks and Love!

    • Eric C says:

      Where did 100,000 unique visitors come from? That seems like a large goal even for established blogs.

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