Failure is an Experience, Not Who You Are – Get your Sisu On! by Carol Malone

Summer Holiday by Carol MalonePlease welcome author and book coach in training Carol Malone. Today she’s sharing her article regarding our beliefs about failing as a writer. Enjoy!


Why do we let failure identify us? Why do we not realize that adversity, burdens, writer’s block, etc. are just isolated events from which we can recover? Sometimes we let failure define who we are, making us believe we’re actually … A failure!

This thought is bunk, but how many of us believe it? I know I have from time to time.

I suffered through a particularly brutal critique in a small writing group the other night. Just a few writing friends and a mentor of mine who leads the group were in attendance. We passed around our chapters in the hopes love will follow. I supply the red pens. That’s probably my first mistake, but it wasn’t my only mistake of the night.

The reading of my chapter commenced. I was terribly fond of his particular chapter having worked on it for a number of months previous. This is a chapter from the follow up sequel to my first published pulp-fiction-era book from the Fight Card series, titled Fight Card Romance, Ladies Night. This book I’ve title Fight Card Romance: Sunday Punch, after the dreaded “Sunday punch” spoken of in boxing terms that puts your lights out from Sunday to Sunday. It’s a bad punch – like my experience.

My story is an entertaining look at the historical period of the 1950s and the tough, seamy side of Los Angeles – crime, graft, dirty-cops, boxing – with a smidgeon of romance. So I’m beaming away whilst the leader of our group, author and former L.A. Detective Paul Bishop is ripping into my chapter.

I could almost hear the red pens scratching across the wood-pulp as they hacked, cut, and chopped up my stunning chapter. All those wonderful metaphors I’d learned to write so beautifully lay bleeding on the carpet of Paul’s home.

I started to squirm. Then I got defensive. That was followed immediately by, “I’m such a failure. What does it matter what I write? No one will read my book anyway.” Total loser talk.

Can you hear the tiny violin playing my sob story?

Doesn’t matter that no one else thought of me as a failure – I felt it. I had failed to meet my own expectations. And it doesn’t matter that it was only one section out of an entire novel. It cut me to the quick. I immediately and deeply internalized the “failure” and owned it.

I was not acting like a mentally tough writer who lets their perseverance and their need to get better, help them endure helpful critiques. I lost my toughness, my determination and folded like a cheap shirt in a Chinese laundry. (Couldn’t resist one last metaphor.)  I saw this rather harsh “event” as who I was, NOT something that just HAPPENED to me.

There is a Finnish word that can’t be translated properly into English. Loosely, it means stoic or determined with bravery, guts, perseverance and hardiness. In the beginning of World War II, the Soviets attacked Finland with massively more forces than that Finnish could muster. Completely outnumbered, and in a most brutal winter, the Finnish soldiers relied on their enduring concept of Sisu to pull them through.

Emilia Lahti, a PhD candidate at Aalto University in Helsinki and former student of Angela Duckworth at The University of Pennsylvania, studies the concept of Sisu and how it applies to our lives. According to Lahti, “Sisu is the concept of taking action in the face of significant adversity or challenge. It is not so much about achievement as it is about facing your challenges with valor and determination.” She goes on to say, “Sisu provides the final empowering push, when we would otherwise hesitate to act.”

Facing your challenges with valor and determination. That just gives me chills.

So what does that mean for us as writers? 

[…] Sisu runs even deeper than grit. It is a type of mental toughness that allows you to bear the burden of your responsibilities, whatever they happen to be, with a will and perseverance that is unbreakable. It is the ability to sustain your action and fight against extreme odds. Sisu extends beyond perseverance. It is what you rely on when you feel like you have nothing left,” according to James Clear, one of my personal heroes.

  • When you’re faced with writers block like I spoke about last month. – Sisu.
  • When you’re in the middle of a creative slump. – Sisu.
  • When you’re two minutes from beating your personal best on the treadmill. – Sisu.
  • When you start a business, become an author, and have no one to guide you. – Sisu.
  • When someone in your family turns against you, or you’re left all alone. – Sisu.
  • When your body is breaking down and it’s easier to sit in front of the tube. – Sisu.

We’re all going to have those moments that take the feet right out from under us, which cause us to doubt, that make us scream out in pain and anguish. Mentally tough people – those filled with the grit and determination, or Sisu, will tell themselves this difficult situation is an EVENT to get through and not an statement of WHO they are. Let’s all get our Sisu on.


About the author:

Carol Malone, AuthorAn award winning novelist, Carol Malone writes romantic suspense, rocketing readers into the past to uncover a hard-fought happily-ever-after. Based in coastal California, when not hammering out new tales, Carol reads, watches sports, the Food Network or HGTV, or spends time with her author husband. She loves to connect with her readers on her website, Twitter, and on Facebook.

Check out her books here:

Fight Card Romance: Ladies Night  

Fight Card Romance: Ladies Night Christmas

Summer Holiday

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