Living with Defeat

Ballerina Painting

I don’t know about you people, but as far as I’m concerned, things often don’t turn out as I hope they would. And mind you, it’s not because of carelessness or laziness or meanness on my part. I do my best. It’s just that I’m a short and frail boy-writer with a hat and with a propensity for tasting the bitter side of solitude.

I think that for a writer or artist it’s important to be able to live with defeat. Let’s face it, we’re frail and sensible dreamers, and life’s challenges often prove to be too much trouble for our faint hearts. Those of us who can live with defeat can convert griefs and woes into art that tickles hearts and challenges minds, and by doing so hopefully prosper. The ability to live with defeat as an artist isn’t inherent in everyone though, hence the reason why in all cultures artists have high suicide rates.

 “Anyone can deal with victory. Only the mighty can bear defeat.”
― Adolf Hitler

Whether it’s romantic, artistic, professional, or financial defeat we encounter, I think we writers can turn it into characters with whom readers can sympathize, or tragic or amusing scenes, or engaging storylines. The pen and paper can make even the most mundane defeats solemn and inspiring. Just think of Shakespeare and of Dickens and of their often un-heroic literature.

Whatever defeat you’ve suffered, it’s always harder not to move on than it is to move on. I mean after every serious defeat you have two options: kill yourself, or carry on. It’s a lot harder to kill yourself than it is to move on. It takes a lot of courage to end your existence, a courage few posses. Besides, I think that in most cases it’s to everyone’s advantage if the defeated moves on. Defeat challenges the ego, it’s true, but it strengthens the mind and the body.

“Defeat may be victory in disguise;

The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.”

— Loss and Gain – H.W. Longfellow

For writers and for artists in general defeat is more than it is for other people. It’s an opportunity. You can re-imagine life on paper, and you can change the end, and in a way you can enjoy what life has denied you, whether it’s love, advancement, or riches.

The drunkard is too busy drinking to enjoy his drink, to describe its taste, to look at its effects. It’s the same with the victor; he moves too fast and notices too little. Defeat slows down life, makes you see the details that until then you have ignored. And often those details are the key ingredients for good literature or art.

If you’re an artist, tasting bitter defeat can be better for your art than savoring sugary victory. But like all things in this life, defeat must be enjoyed with moderation. Dear literary friends, we must not let ourselves be defeated too often.

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23 thoughts on “Living with Defeat

  1. I am at this point right now. I have just graduated and finished writing my book at the same time. Now I have to face a fear of defeat (waiting 3/4 months to hear back from publishers) and the search of a ‘proper’ job which is funny enough when your degree is Arts.
    So yes- either way we have to live with defeat or we are in trouble!

  2. “Defeat slows down life, makes you see the details that until then you have ignored.” – I love this. It’s applicable to other aspects of life too. Who was it who said that behind all successes are a series of failures. To those who will not give up, it’s just a matter of time before they find victory. 🙂

  3. It’s crass, but sales people always say that every “no” gets you one step closer to a “yes.” And, various writers I’ve known have expressed that once you reach a level of competence, the people “judging” your work on the other side are taking into account their own personal taste, what they need for a particular publication, or what happens to grab them at the moment. I do appreciate but am not the biggest fan of Monet – but I would never say that Van Gogh is “better than Monet.” Van Gogh is different than Monet and scratches my itch for pain and danger which happens to nag more than my itch for balance and beauty. I don’t mean to take away from your pain of “defeat,” to the extent that it is part of you and informs your journey – I just thought I’d add some perspective learned from others who are far more successful than I. A perspective I could take to heart more often myself. Cheers on your journey –

  4. I am defeated every day. I must be very mighty indeed.

    “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

    –Henry David Thoreau

  5. This reminded me of you:

    “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

    – Winston Churchill

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