"Failure is the body of a writer's life. Success is only ever an attire."
Go ahead, if you're a writer, and get that tattooed somewhere visible or easily accessible. You'll want it indelible because tears and sweat are certain to obscure, if not erase.
"Rejection never ends. Success is no cure. Success only alters to whom, or what, you may submit. Rejection is the river in which we swim."
Jot that down on a Post-it and stick it somewhere on your computer or on your notebook--it's perhaps a bit wordy for inking.
On Writing and Failure, Stephen Marche's monograph (the sixth book in Biblioasis' Field Notes series), is svelte enough that you'd have no excuse to not have it on your person at all times. Whenever you find yourself either too despairing or over-confident, open up to any page and reset.
The book begins with the question, "Does it ever get easier?" posed first by the author to writer and new neighbour Nathan Englander, and then posed, anecdotally, but Englander to Philip Roth. "Is it ever easier? Do you ever grow a thicker skin?" Roth assures him, "Your skin just grows thinner and thinner. In the end, they can hold you up to the light and see right through you."
If personal or professional failure ever feels unique to you, consider the lows of Samuel Johnson, or George Orwell, or Abolqasem Ferdowsi, or Jane Austen, or Herman Melville, or Keats, or James Joyce. In On Writing and Failure, Marche, well-versed and well heeled in failure himself, provides a survey of successful failures. While your work, in your own estimation or the estimation of others, might never live up to these time-approved authors, you can at least claim to share abject, constant failure in common with them.
There's no shortage of writer's guides designed to inspire and chuff the aspiring author, and they certainly have their place. But across the bookshelf, they fail to prepare their readers for the only certainty there is in writing.
"A fact," writes Marche, "that no one seems able to tell young writers: The quality of your writing will have very little effect on your career, and yet it is the only thing that matters. If you want to write well, the overwhelming majority of the time you will be doing so for its own sake, with a vage, not particularly sensible hope that it will somehow resonate."
On Writing and Failure is one of the few writer's companions I would ever call essential.
There is, of course, no shortage of reportage in the book that will turn off or frighten young or new writers, and that's what makes Marche's book essential. Roseate depictions of an arts-centred life will only lead to more hurtful surprises down the line. It's probably best to get out before you get too deep in. On the other hand, there's something essentially energizing about the book. Accepting failure as a certainty will be liberating for the right people. And once you make peace with that inevitably, there should be nothing stopping you from failing big and failing often.