Posts Tagged ‘failure’

It’s a beautiful day today, the birds are singing, the clover is growing and I’m plugging along, making progress on numerous fronts and feeling fine.

It isn’t always this way.

Some days I can’t get a thing done and nothing seems right no matter what I do. I’m not alone in this, as I was reminded by a recent discussion on one of my listserves. A member had finally had it up to there with the frequent failure to find editorial acceptance. Folks chimed in, discussions were discussed, and this particular writer hopefully left the thread more optimistic than when it began. I know I did.

What some call failure, I call pre-acceptance. Have I mentioned this before? I probably have, because it’s a fairly critical component to my writerly attitude.* No one is going to like everything you write, no matter who you are. There will be rejection.

And that’s ok.

That’s progress, that’s experience, that’s learning one more way not to make a lightbulb. All writers, all people, get rejected.

Let’s take words out of the equation for a moment. I’m on a cookie kick so let’s stick with that.

Are you handing out delicious cookies at work? Someone will say thanks, but no thanks. It may be that they aren’t keen on chocolate chip, or that they are lactose intolerant, or that their doctor just read them the riot act about Type 2 diabetes. You don’t know, and that’s ok.

This isn’t about them, it’s about you.

Do the best you can, of course, and keep bumping that line higher. Practice. Follow Angela Duckworth’s research and go on grit rather than talent. Go online, and find helpful pep talks like the one Neil Gaiman wrote for National Novel Writing Month:

One word after another.

That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.

Whatever it takes. Your goals are worth it.

* I should mention that I didn’t start out this way. It took some time to be ok with rejection, and if I can do it, you can too. The 350+ pre-acceptances I have accumulated so far helped a lot:)

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Don’t fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

— Bruce Lee

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I came across a fascinating article by David McRaney on survivorship bias. The overall point, that accounting for failure is critical to success, is well made, and the author uses a series of pointed examples. Not incidentally, the post also lays out a new-to-me part of World War Two history that includes a cabal of geniuses, women mathematicians, and the Department of War Math (ok, that last bit wasn’t its real name, but it should have been).

In World War Two, for example, the U.S. military tracked damage to returning bombers and wanted to beef up the most frequently-hit areas. A statistician named Abraham Wald pointed out that the surviving planes made it back despite that damage. The spots where they were unscathed, the ones no one had thought to record, were in fact the most vulnerable; as McRaney sums up, “that’s where the planes that didn’t make it back were hit.”

I found the history interesting in its own right, and if you have ever been tempted by the (admittedly seductive) trap of thinking, “Well, my grandfather breakfasted on salt pork and hot gin for ninety years, so I can eat whatever I want and still live forever,” I recommend a read.

“You develop a completely inaccurate assessment of reality thanks to a prejudice that grants the tiny number of survivors the privilege of representing the much larger group to which they originally belonged.“

That same logic applies to evaluating advice from diet gurus, celebrity CEOs and millionaire app designers. Skill plays a part, of course, but it turns out that overall, what a lot of successful people have in common could be termed luck. That may be a bit discouraging, but the good news is that such luck can be courted if you’re willing to take a longer-term view.

“The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.”

Instead of looking for that one big break, think of the world as a series of possibilities; the more options you try, the greater your chance of success. Resist tunnel vision, “wade into the sea of random chance,” and stay open to new ideas and situations. That sounds pretty good, actually.

If you’re interested in how survivorship bias applies to writers and writing careers, check out this post by Tobias Buckell and the related Writing Excuses podcast in glorious audio or text.

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Some of you will have seen this poem, but I fielded a question about it recently and wanted to revisit what is a sometimes painful yet ultimately encouraging truth:

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.
—Samuel Beckett

Not “stop trying.” Not “don’t fail.” Fail better. It’s a sentiment close to the heart of many writers:)

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If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.
— Thomas J. Watson

Today I finish two new stories and submit them. At least, that’s my plan. It’s a good plan. Even if I lose, I win:)

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