Failing Better

In an article written for aspiring writers, a famous novelist suggested that if these writers wanted to succeed at writing, they should first spend their time failing better. What an odd thing to say to writers who look to such novelists for encouragement, for formulas on how better to succeed. What an odd thing to say in a culture that frown at the word failure. But the novelist explained that failure in the pursuit of a novel is likely, even imminent.

As I read those words, I found myself nodding in agreement. Why yes, failure is likely and in fact, I have three failed novels languishing in a file cabinet. I try very hard not to think about them or the months and years I poured into creating them, disastrous as they are. “Don’t beat yourself up,” the writer admonished. Failure, as it turns out, is a healthy part of the writing process. Without it, writers wouldn’t push themselves to solve nearly insoluble problems (like how to salvage or whether to salvage those three novel drafts languishing in the file cabinet). Failure teaches us things quick success never can. Without the struggle, the story drafts won’t improve. Without the struggle, we won’t learn new techniques, or more importantly, perhaps, how to hone old techniques and make them better. Failure forces us to revisit what we think we know. The famous American inventor Thomas Edison is famous for having said “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work.” What he learned through that process is that genius and success are just as much a result of determination and hard work as of “luck” or good fortune. I have his quote taped to the side of my computer. And so, when I’m in the midst of what feels like colossal failure, I remind myself that the failure is instructive, necessary even. I remind myself to look for the lesson, however small, and then to keep charging forward.