Latter-day Saint Life

The 3 steps to persisting through failure from a bestselling author

Female Chinese architect working in the office
"Failure is not a stumbling block; it is a stepping stone toward achieving your goals." Jennifer Nielsen
Lane Oatey/Blue Jean Images -

At this point in the year, we’ve already passed “quitter’s day,” the date in January when many people abandon the resolutions and goals they set at the beginning of the month.

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Nielsen has some advice for when quitting seems like the logical thing to do: “Remember, ‘the Lord loves effort.’ Failure is not a stumbling block; it is a stepping stone toward achieving your goals. If you are falling short of your goals, be willing to take an honest, hard look to understand why.”

Jennifer knows about persisting through failed goals to find success. Now the author of over 20 books for young adult and middle-grade readers, she admits that she knew nothing about writing fiction when she initially began. Before she published her first book, over a decade later, Jennifer wrote four novels that she says, “are going to be buried with me because nobody should have to see what I created in those early days.”

As she worked to gain experience and learn more about the craft of writing, steps she knew were necessary and in her control to accomplish, she started to develop her skills and gain confidence.

Watch the clip below to hear how the many rejections Jennifer received taught her to fail better and trust the Lord.

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Video Companion
Jennifer Nielsen talks about rejection letters and spiritual growth

Needing persistence isn’t limited to publishing books. Jennifer’s experiences have taught her that when she invites God into the creative process, it becomes a way for her to draw close to Him, especially as she grapples with setbacks or failures. 

“I believe that every one of us, in some way, each received a unique form of creativity [from Heavenly Father],” Jennifer says. “The Lord is a creative being, and if He wants us to be more like Him, then He will provide a way for all of us to become more creative.”

Exploring Possibilities

Jennifer calls creativity “beautiful problem solving” and, like artist Greg Olsen, doesn’t put limits on what it means to be a creative individual. Creativity could involve a myriad of different things, from writing computer code and organizing a home to planning a garden or managing people so they feel satisfied with their jobs.

“At its core, creativity is the combination of imagination and intelligence,” Jennifer explains. "Just think of what happens when those two traits are attached to righteous desires, to love for others around us, and to a desire to use our natural gifts in service of our Lord and Savior. When that is our goal, the possibilities for what we might achieve are endless.”

Even when we’re motivated to move forward with a goal or project, there can be times when we feel stuck and don’t know what to do next. During these moments, Jennifer tries to remember to draw on the Lord’s help through prayer and then look for ideas from others that can help spark personal inspiration. 

To maintain persistence and achieve creative goals, Jennifer suggests following these three steps.

Step 1: See Yourself as a Creative Individual 

Part of becoming more creative is being humble enough to learn while trying—and to keep adding to your stores of information in diverse ways. “The knowledge that we gain along the way will be a treasure,” Jennifer says.

When we seek knowledge for righteous purposes, it stays with us. Even if we don’t apply what we have learned to one creative endeavor, we might draw on it later for another problem that needs solving.

For example, many people don’t feel like they use high school algebra in their everyday lives, but the problem-solving skills they gain by working through math homework apply to countless situations, like making decisions or resolving conflicts.

Being creative helps us serve each other better as well. “The fact is, I want a doctor who is creative, who can listen to my needs and come up with solutions that aren’t found in a textbook,” Jennifer shares. “I want mothers who can address their struggling child’s unique learning differences, even if all others have given up trying. I want ministering brothers and sisters to find creative ways to express sincere love to those who might otherwise reject it. And I believe the Lord wants this for us, too.”

Step 2: Learn to Ponder and Cultivate Ideas

Making time to reflect is essential to creativity. When carving out the space for pondering seems like an obstacle, relying on the Lord’s help becomes paramount. As we acknowledge that creative ideas come from Him in the first place, we build trust that He will also help us figure it out—even if we can’t see the way through at first.

“We must give ourselves time to ponder, to consider all options, to weigh the consequences of any decision we might make,” Jennifer says. This isn’t only about creating the time, but we also need to have “a place where we can allow peaceful and quiet time for those thoughts to linger in our mind.”

Inspiration can also come at unexpected times and in unexpected places, such as while driving or preparing a meal. Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The Lord’s hand is guiding you. By ‘divine design,’ He is in the small details of your life as well as the major milestones.”

Jennifer has especially felt the Lord guide her when she needs in-the-moment guidance at events. Because she writes for young people, she’s often asked to speak at schools on reading or writing. Even though she ponders and makes plans for her remarks beforehand, she knows things will come up and she will need spiritual help with creative problem-solving to respond to others.

“Whatever the topic, I always understand that it is a privilege to have that time with those young people,” she says. “And so, before entering any school, there’s always a prayer in my heart that I will be able to say whatever the Lord would have me say.”

Step 3: Start Somewhere, and Start Now 

Jennifer likes to remember that the way forward with any project is not just to begin but to keep going, even when the progress might seem slow.

“Make time to start, even if those first efforts are small,” she recommends. “Why? Because you have the idea now. You have the motivation now. Don’t wait for the weekend or until summer ends or summer begins. Don’t wait until you’re older or wiser or have more money because the truth is there will always be a reason why you can put off creating. And so simply start. And once you do, continue. And once you do, finish.”

One of Jennifer’s favorite scripture passages about working toward goals is found in Deuteronomy 2:2–3: And the Lord spake unto [Moses] saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.”

It reminds her to do the work required to begin the climb, even if a project seems daunting or insurmountable.

In her book, Once Upon a Climb: 5 Steps Every Dreamer Should Know, she writes:

“It can be easy to spend your time and energy staying busy with tasks that have no real meaning for you. That is circling the mountain—staying in motion but never moving toward your dreams. Remember, action does not always equal altitude. For many people, north means up. So, consider this your call to get on the mountain.”

While each of us has an individual life path and our own creative projects, we all journey together in our Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness. What one of us does lifts another.

“Sometimes creativity is the way we add to the beauty and happiness of this world,” Jennifer says. “Sometimes, creativity is helping others find more beauty and happiness of their own.”

Once Upon a Climb: 5 Steps Every Dreamer Should Know, is an insightful and motivating book by New York Times best-selling author Jennifer A. Nielsen for anyone looking for guidance on how to reach the summit of their personal dreams. Countless readers have been inspired by Jennifer Nielsen’s best-selling novels and keynote speeches. She has compiled her hard-earned life lessons, advice, and insights for achieving individual success into five steps for all dreamers who want to reach their own personal summits.

Find more about creativity as a spiritual process in her Seek course.

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