The Necessity of Failure Plus How "Accidents" Happen

Photo credit: Mindful One

While reading Kevin Kelly’s blog (which focuses on technology + the future), I came across this wonderful quote for writers.

Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don’t work. You will find
that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right.
Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you
bothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work
you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first
poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit
around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work. (Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town)

So true. And it somewhat echoes what I said at my keynote in Austin this past weekend: If you’re not failing, you’re probably not shooting high enough.

Everyone fails. That’s not the important part. What’s important is what you do next. Are you learning? Are you growing? Is your experience making you bigger—or is it shrinking you down, making you small?

Particularly in a time of tremendous change in the industry, it is inevitable that some—even many—of our efforts will fail. I hope it can contribute to your progress, rather than stop it.

10948.jpgLooking for more words of wisdom about the writing life? I highly recommend Page After Page by Heather Sellers.

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6 thoughts on “The Necessity of Failure Plus How "Accidents" Happen

  1. Cathy Yardley

    This is wonderful! I’m going to forward it to my students. I love the quote "the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems…" So many times, it does feel like I’m working uphill, and some other idea might be easier. And I love the idea that if you’re not failing, you’re not aiming high enough. Words to live by!

  2. Shary Hover

    I recently abandoned my first novel after six years of work. I’m already wading into my next project, but I was feeling like a failure for having spent so much time on a story that now lives in the cupboard. Thanks for reminding me that my time wasn’t wasted.

  3. Steven M Moore

    Hi Jane!
    These are inspiring words. Sometimes I think you’re my cheerleader…or priest in the confessional?
    Amplifying what Todd says, I’m not sure all accidents should be classified as accidents. People without a good work ethic sometimes are lucky and have success just by being in the right place at the right time (some Nobel prize winners in physics even fall into this category), but in general a good work ethic, which includes not giving up, leads to some degree of what one normally classifies as success.
    @ Susie: Eisler and others have pointed out (over-emphasized?) the role of agents as gatekeepers, meaning: what gets through them is what they opine will sell in, generally speaking, the Big Six book market. My rule is: once you have received 50+ rejections, re-evaluate. There might be flaws in your MS. If you think not, and this is quite possible if you’ve only sampled 50+ people, there is always POD–both trade paperbacks and ebooks.
    I personally believe that the role of the agent will change. Moreover, the better agents (or ones with more time?) do give you a little more detail about why they’re rejecting your MS. It’s all subjective, especially if you’re writing fiction. Think about how subjective your own reading tastes are. It’s an exciting time in publishing but it’s also very competitive as the digital revolution morphs legacy publishing and allows more people to have their say.

  4. Susie Finkbeiner

    You know, I’m learning how difficult the agent/publisher search is. I’ve heard back "unmarketable", "not what we’re looking for", etc.

    But I’ve also heard "don’t give up". I think that the tragic mistake would be for me to quit. Right now, publishing is all about innovation. And I think that’s pretty exciting!

  5. Todd Henry

    YES! Such a great quote and so very true. Creative accidents are rarely true accidents – they are found in the midst of work. Thanks for the insight!


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