A Dialogue with Failure

I didn’t mean to come here and write about this today. To be honest, I’d rather write nothing. But I am supposed to write two posts each month for this column, Wednesday Wisdom.

Since last week I have been trying to post the perfect article about how to properly go about using Instagram. I have been trying to help you guys see how it is possible to use the platform without falling into the traps of anxiety and distraction that we all know too well about.

I hope to finish that article and post it soon, because I really believe it is relevant and will help many overcome some of the hardest struggles we face as creatives online.

But today, I must admit defeat. Total failure. I started writing this last week — spending about 2-3 hours writing and rewriting. I thought for sure that if I were to push it to this week, I could come back at it fresh and finish it once and for all. So this morning, around 8:30, I started writing again. I even had a solid outline. But now it is almost 12:30 PM, and I still have nothing to show for it. I have been writing and re-writing the intro all morning.

What is preventing me from getting past, into the meat of my statements? It’s hard to say specifically, other than a total mental fog. I guess some call this writer’s block, but I think it’s different. I know what I want to write about, but I am having trouble organizing my thoughts on the page. I keep expecting everything to flow and come together in the way things have in the past, but they are not.

Meanwhile, I have to come here and deliver meaningful content for the Illustration Age readership. As a last ditch effort, here I am simply documenting my honest struggle today, hoping there is something in this that will be relevant to you guys. This is at the risk of being self indulgent, and if you find this unreadable I would understand.

What can I glean from this situation? Well for starters, I am finding it much easier to write now that the pressure is off to actually prove a point. Now that I am not expecting myself to craft this perfect essay that will cut straight to your hearts, I suddenly have little trouble getting past two paragraphs. Maybe what I am getting at is that it is much easier to create from a place of honesty and personal experience than out of a preconceived notion, some point you think you need to talk about which by the time you start writing you realize you really don’t want to.

And this is actually a little bit like Instagram — the topic I was going to write about but couldn’t. You know how we feel pressure to make something great, every single day? And how you a) don’t have the time to do it, and b) partly don’t want to start because you don’t believe it’s gonna be good anyway?

I think that’s what’s happening here. I keep failing to write this article because I’m afraid of it not being good anyway. I am doubting the value of my creation even as I try to create it. Self doubt is one of my own personal worst demons. We should all have an inner critic that helps us question things more objectively, but there has to be a time when this inner critic must shut up so you can just create. Write drunk, edit sober, they say.

In one way, self doubt has won today, but it will not have the last word. Because The most important thing to do when you are stuck is to show up anyway. Sometimes the only way around a creative block is to confront it directly. While you can’t get past it, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a dialogue with it. Author Steven Pressfield calls this blockage The Resistance. The Resistance wants nothing more than for you to give up, to stop creating — and very much, it would rather you never shared your work with anybody. The only weapon we have against this force is showing up for battle. While to lose a battle is to fail, admitting failure can help you win the war.

Tags: , , ,

Categories: Wednesday Wisdom

Author:Tom Froese

Tom Froese is an award winning illustrator and designer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Working independently since 2013, Tom has worked for companies, organizations and small businesses around the world. Clients include Yahoo!, Air Canada, GQ France, and Abrams Publishing. He is also a Top Teacher on Skillshare, where he teaches a handful of classes based on his unique approach to illustration.

Don't miss a thing!

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

11 Comments on “A Dialogue with Failure”

  1. July 10, 2019 at 6:25 pm #

    Excellent post! We all have those moments, one week a post flows naturally and quickly and other times we struggle with the writing. THANKS for sharing, maybe it is summer, I have a similar writing issue with a children’s picture book I am working on. I’m stuck and need to get “unstuck.” A good reminder that if we keep trying, at some point we have a break through! Look forward to your next post.

    • July 12, 2019 at 10:15 am #

      Thank you. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Keep at it!

  2. Bob Danley
    July 10, 2019 at 6:39 pm #

    Thanks Tom for putting yourself out there. Your post had value for me, I could identify. It made me feel better. Your writing is a reminder that just by being a flawed etc. self can be healthy and an avenue for creativity. Good job :-)

    • July 12, 2019 at 10:12 am #

      Cheers, Bob. I think the best creativity comes from a place of honesty. That doesn’t always mean failing, but sometimes we have to fail to get back to a place of honesty.

  3. kianho28
    July 11, 2019 at 12:59 am #

    You are in good company. My article about time management for creative chaots was finished three weeks later than I scheduled it for. (I had waited for a response from an interview partner, then I started an illustration for it and got caught in the rabbit hole of perfectionism) But hey, in 20 years no one will really know or care. They may giggle at the irony of it. Your post makes me feel better.

    We all have the moments of wanting not to fail. But in failing, and falling, we learn to stand up again.

    • July 12, 2019 at 10:11 am #

      Glad my article was helpful! Thank you for your feedback.

  4. July 11, 2019 at 3:20 am #

    I’ve never heard of ‘write drunk, edit sober’ I love that. I’ve also only recently learnt about resistance, which resonated with me a great deal.
    A great post, it’s nice to read something so candid.

    • July 12, 2019 at 10:10 am #

      Thank you. It’s a good principle to know — kind of hard to practice for an over-thinker like me!

  5. July 23, 2019 at 6:01 pm #

    I value your attempts to always deliver value and the honesty you have shown in this post Tom. I also sometimes just have to stop, take a break or move onto something else for a while. We are not machines.

    • July 24, 2019 at 9:41 am #

      Thank you, Daniela. Yes, sometimes we just need to move on rather than blast through creative block. It was definitely useful for me this time around.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.