My failure was trying to copy another writer.
My first novel was a complete train wreck. Forget having a beginning, a middle, and an end. My first manuscript had an OPENING SCENE that went on for 50,000 words. What's worse, it took me close to 2 years to write those words.
(This was, of course, back during my "party days" when I wasn't reading much, but thought how cool it would be to write for a living.)
So, instead of picking a genre to write in, then reading tons of books in that genre, I started writing. Butt in chair, type, type, type. That train was soon derailed, hurrying off into the abyss that scientists discovered years ago, which came to be known as "Verbal Diarrhea."
All those books I loved reading as a teenager and into my early twenties--The Shining, Interview with a Vampire, Lord of the Flies, 1984, Jaws...(yes, Jaws was a book first, by Peter Benchley)--were all I needed to craft my own masterpiece. My thinking, at the time, was Hey, if they can do it, I can do it too--just like them. Exactly like them.
The result was horrible. HORRIBLE.
My wife and I still laugh about the time I spun around in the office chair after printing off the pages of a brand new scene: a bloodied, beaten father, duct-taped to a chair, unconscious. The antagonist of the story, a 12-year-old bully, had thrashed his abusive father with an empty booze bottle.
Silence followed. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "What kind of book are you trying to write?"
But...but...what do you mean? It's a book!
Then I thought, Agh, what does she know? All she does is read books, books, and more books, in every genre out there, and has a much better idea of flow, and "voice" (writing like YOU) than anybody I know. I, my dear, am a writer.
I was trying to write some kind of cross between a Roald Dahl kid's book and a Stephen King horror novel.
Two years later, I did it again.
Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book floored me. Absolutely floored me. After tiring of listening to the radio all day at work (factory work, where we were allowed to wear those huge industrial ear muffs, which now came with a jack for my iPod), I decided to try an audiobook.
Having never heard of Neil Gaiman before that day, I decided to give him a try. The description must've intrigued me, so I bought it--for $7.99 I believe.
I don't know how many times in a row I listened to Graveyard Book, but it was a lot. Ten? Twenty times? In a ten hour shift I could listen to it all the way through once, then start over and get to maybe the second or third chapter before the quitting bell.
Talk about an eye-opener. Or rather, a brain-opener.
That's what I wanted to write. That's the genre I want to write in: Young Adult.
I crafted my next novel exactly like Graveyard Book, into little sections, with each chapter able to stand on its own as a short story. (Neil himself said this was an idea he stole from Kipling's Jungle Book.)
My wife spotted this phony trick right away. "Well, the story is there...it just doesn't sound like YOU."
Down-hearted, but determined, I tossed it. Then I re-wrote my book from scratch. After several months of hard work, when the next draft was completed and had just gone through its first read through, I got this from my wife: "You know, I think maybe you should write this one in 1st person."
The whole manuscript, every last page, went into the recycle bin. Determined to write like me, how I wanted to write, I ended up writing the entire book, again, this time without any notes, any references, any distractions (aside from the kids pounding on the door and asking what I was doing in there, and if I wanted to play hide-and-seek). I wrote the entire book on my laptop, reclined in a chair, relaxed.
(The result is the Mr. B Presents series (now available on Amazon through Createspace.)
After years of writing short stories, novellas, full manuscripts, and studying the craft of writing simply by reading tons of books in the YA genre (and non-fiction books, and biographies, even blogs), I felt confident to send those stories out into the world.
Your goal is to create something, be it a book, poetry collection, or graphic novel that YOU can be proud of. To finally have a finished product in your hand. That is a great accomplishment.
Write, draw, create for YOU.
Comparing your work to what other people are doing is a dangerous road to go down. You begin to lose YOUR voice, be it in writing, illustrating, or poetry. Those authors and illustrators have worked really hard to get where they're at. So if that's what you want, then you will need to do the same--the same hard work, not produce the same product with a slight twist.
Nobody with a finished product in their hands has the right to call themselves a failure. Failure is trying to be somebody else. Failure is being so hyper-critical of your own work that you simply stop creating.
In the words of the philosopher Christopher Cornell:
"To be yourself is all that you can do."