Showing posts with label failure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label failure. Show all posts

Friday, August 1

Seth Godin: You must fail to succeed

Lately I’ve been thinking about failure and the fear of failure, so naturally I turned to Seth Godin and read--or reread--some of what he had to say on the subject.

1. Seek out projects you can afford to fail at.

“If you under-reach a little, nail it, succeed, declare victory and repeat, you’re probably better off.”[1]

We don’t have to go for broke, it doesn’t have be all or nothing. Start small and work up.

2. Be brave.

“[...] I’m talking about the guts to take responsibility for your art. [...] the guts to open the door yourself.”[1]

No risk, no reward. Creating art is scary because it makes us vulnerable. 

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” 

In order to connect with others, in order to reach our readers’ emotions, we have to fuel our writing with our own deep losses, our own tragedies, our own vulnerabilities. That’s scary.

3. Take the 10,000 hour rule to heart.

“The 10,000 hour rule is legit. If you spend enough time working through really difficult challenges, you’re just going to get better at it.”[1]

The more you publish, the more often you publish, the better you’re going to get at it--provided you learn from your mistakes.

4. Don’t make it personal.

“If you let the lizard brain run amok, if you turn problems into referenda about you, about your goodness as a human being, it’s not going to end well. A key to discernment is to figure out the truth of what you’re looking at and act on it, not let it act on you.”

Yes, sometimes reviews can review the author and not just the author’s work, but writers need to find a way to separate themselves from what they’ve written and not take criticisms about the work as criticisms about themselves as writers or as people. Something which can be difficult to do if you took rule number three to heart and bled all over the page.

5. Failure is the key to success.


“The single best way to overrule your fears is to call their bluff by making the fear come true.

“Do something you know will fail.

“And then fail again.

“Once you fail at what the lizard brain is so petrified of, it will lose its power over you.”[1]

Obviously Seth Godin is talking about non-fatal failures. And he’s not talking about intentionally failing at work or failing as a husband (or wife) or failing as a parent or failing as a human being. He’s talking about taking risks, perhaps relatively small risks. 

If a person wants to climb Mount Everest they don’t start by climbing Mount Everest, they start by climbing a steep hill. They start by taking lessons. They start by trying, and probably failing, to achieve smaller goals. 

I cannot guarantee that as long as you keep trying that, eventually, you will succeed.

I can guarantee that if you let a fear of failure keep you from trying that you will never succeed.

*  *  *

I’ve been working on a longer article about the fear of failure, but I wanted to share Seth Godin’s words with you. I believe what Seth Godin says: once we lose our fear of failure it will lose its power over us. Or, as Frank Herbert put it: fear is the mind-killer.

That quotation is one of my favorites:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Fail. Fail again. Kill the fear. It’s the only way to truly succeed.


1. Seth Godin – Full Stop Failure over at Turnaround Magazine.
Photo credit: "streetmusic" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, January 24

How To Succeed As A Writer: The Value Of Failure

How To Succeed As A Writer: The Value Of Failure

We've all failed. Seth Godin believes that failing is good but that failing big is even better. Why? Because unless you're failing you're not really trying. (NexGen Interviews - Seth Godin)

But how does this philosophy apply to writers? That's something I've been thinking about lately. This morning I came across How to Become a Writing Rockstar: A Simple Guide. In it Henri Junttila asks: What is the goal of writing?

When we know what the goal is, perhaps he can understand how failure can help us. So, here's what Henri thinks the goal of writing is: To write authentically, to write honestly. "When you stay true to your quirky self, you are already a rockstar."

That echoes something Seth Godin said:
We should blow up the expectations of writing and say something worth saying and say it in a way that’s personal. It turns out that the internet, for the first time in the history of mankind, says to everyone, ‘Here’s a microphone. If you want to talk, talk. If you want to write, write. If you want to make a difference, make a difference.’ How horrible it would be to refuse to take your turn at the mic. (Why We Are All Artists: Seth Godin in Conversation – Part 1)
You might say, "Oh, but what if people don't like me! What if I release my work on Amazon and I get a bunch of 1 star reviews?"

1. Failure Shows You How To Get Better

Here's why failure is so important: it shows you how to get better. Seth writes:
Bob Dylan was booed off the stage in 1967 when he went electric. He was booed off the stage in 1974 when he went Gospel. He’s been booed off the stage since then and yet he still fills theaters. The Monkeys, on the other hand, have never been booed off the stage and they’re just an oldies act. Being booed off the stage is a key part of being an artist. (Part 1)
So, congratulations! Sure, you failed, but you tried something. And, as a result, you learned something.

2. Failure Is Safer Than Not Failing

What you did is actually a very safe thing. Seth writes:
I want to use the words uncomfortable zone [rather than "danger zone"] because it is, in fact, a very safe place to be because it’s not fatal. No one ever died writing a blog post. What we’re saying here is that for a while anyway, the safest thing you can do is to be as uncomfortable as you can stand to be. (How to become a Successful Writer: Seth Godin in Conversation – Part 2)
Your writing career is not over because you wrote and published a story that people hated (and I'm pretty sure not everyone hated it). Remember: YOU didn't fail, your story did. 

The key: Don't take failure personally.

Seth Godin puts it this way:
Most people who are getting started in writing do not have the confidence of a best-selling author. They are not comfortable sharing their work far and wide. They’re not comfortable saying, ‘I don’t have a publisher. I’m going to publish myself. Here, I wrote this.’ They would rather have the safety that comes from saying, ‘Well, I didn’t decide this was good. Penguin decided this was good.’ ‘I didn’t decide this was worth reading. Simon and Schuster decided it was worth reading.’

My argument is that all the things that feel uncomfortable are actually the safest things you can do. To every novelist who is complaining or bitter about all the publishers who won’t publish them, I say: Take your novel, make it into a PDF. It’s free. E-mail it to fifty of your friends.

If your novel strikes a chord, they will e-mail it to their friends and the next thing you know, a million people will read your novel for free. If a million people read your novel for free, you’ll have no trouble whatsoever selling your next one.

On the other hand, if the fifty people you sent it to don’t share it with anyone, then you haven’t written a good enough novel, and you should start over. But either of those paths is better than sitting at home complaining about the fact that you can’t get published. (Part 1)
We’ve just eliminated scarcity. There used to be scarcity of shelf space, scarcity of publishers, and scarcity of paper. All that’s gone. There’s unlimited shelf space, unlimited digital paper, and an unlimited number of publishers. You can’t continue to blame scarcity for the fact that your writing isn’t in the world.

You have to accept that putting your writing out there is no longer difficult. What’s difficult is getting someone who encounters your writing to share it with someone else. That changes the kind of writing you should be doing. You shouldn’t ever again be writing to please an editor. (Part 2)
Seth admits to failing:
I don’t consider it a good day unless I fail. I’ve written thousands and thousands of blog posts. Most of them aren’t that great. I’ve written books that didn’t sell as well as the publisher wanted. I’ve launched internet projects that have fallen on their face. I’ve had negotiations where I completely misunderstood what the other person was looking for, or they misunderstood me, and we walked away from each other.

The Key To Success As A Writer

Don't write to please everyone. If you do that you'll please no one.
If you’ve accepted that the rules of the game are that you are not willing to write unless everyone likes what you write, then you’ve just announced that you’re an amateur, not a professional, and that you’re probably doomed. Whereas the professional writer says, ‘It is almost certain that most of what I write will not resonate with most people who read it, but over time, I will gain an audience who trusts me to, at the very least, be interesting.’ (Part 2)
The power of the internet, for writers, is that we can find a small group of people who are interested in the same things we are, the the things we write about. Seth writes:
I was in Iceland last week ... and one out of every six hundred people in the whole country came to see me speak. This would be the equivalent of fifty thousand people seeing me in the United States, which has never, ever happened.

Iceland teaches an important lesson. It’s such a tiny place, yet it’s possible to have a café that succeeds. The café succeeds not because everyone in Iceland goes there, but because enough people go. Whether you live in New Zealand, Malaysia or the United States, the internet connects you to four billion people.

All you need to make a living is for four thousand to adore you. And you need forty thousand to be a hit. That’s forty thousand out of four billion! Those are really good odds! (Part 2)

The Bottom Line

If failure is okay (but mistakes are not), then is there anything you shouldn't do? Seth Godin says there is one thing you should never be: boring. He writes:
Whether you’re a writer or the maker of widgets, you won’t be able to keep going if you’re boring. (Part 2)

Seth Godin's Advice To New Writers

Seth Godin was asked to give advice to new writers. What should a new writer do? His reply:
There are three steps: write, ship, share. When you write and ship and share and you see whether or not it resonates, you will get better at what you do.

The more you write and ship and share, the more people will come to depend on what you’re doing and the easier it’s going to be to spread your ideas. At some point, people will come to you and say, ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Here’s some money’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please come speak to my group’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please coach me so I can do it too.’ But none of that happens until you write and ship and share. (Part 2)
My Question: Are you convinced? Do you think failure is necessary for success?

Other articles you might be interested in:

- The Magic Of Stephen King: A Sympathetic Character Is Dealt A Crushing Blow They Eventually Overcome
- Ray Bradbury On How To Keep And Feed A Muse
- Fleshing Out Your Protagonist: Creating An Awesome Character

Photo credit: "Stupid garbage compactor ..." by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, July 18

Writers: In Order To Win We Must Embrace Failure

Writers: in order to win we must embrace failure
Writers create

I was tempted to title this article, "Writers: Masters of the Universe," but that wouldn't have been very descriptive. Much cooler though.

I was chatting with a friend this morning over email and she mentioned the necessity of embracing failure, the need to allow oneself to fail in order to have the freedom to create that magical first draft.

I'm not saying the first draft is magical because it's so good (although my friend's probably will be, she's an awesome writer) but because it contains in some form--even if it's a twisted, mangled promissory form--the seeds of a story.

It's the morning and I've only had one cup of coffee which means I need at least two more before I become remotely lucid, but it seems to me that the first draft is an act of creation. A writer starts with nothing, not even an idea. Then the idea appears and grows and transforms and becomes a story, something with a theme and a plot and characters and perhaps narrative drive.

To me, all such acts of creation are magical. Something is being created from nothing, ex nihilo.

Years ago another friend of mine introduced me to the term, "dark art". For instance, wine tasting is a dark art, so is picking a stock that performs well.

A successful day trader is a past master of the dark arts.

The idea behind the term is that sometimes there's no straightforwardly algorithmic way to achieve success in a certain field, or at a certain venture. And yet, somehow, people do and they do it on a regular basis. I think calling such people past masters of a dark art sounds cooler than remarking, "They have what it takes," or "They have je ne sais quoi, but it comes to the same thing.

Although there's no way someone can tell another person how to accomplish something for which there is no algorithmic path to success--that's the whole point after all--there are preconditions; requirements that must be met for success to be possible. In the case of a writer one of these requirements seems to be giving oneself the permission to fail.

I came across this quotation yesterday:
'It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly,' C . J. Cherryh
I needed to look that quote up to make sure I remembered it correctly (thanks Ali Hale) and came across this one:
'God sells us all things at the price of the labor,' Leonardo da Vinci
It might seem as though I'm contradicting myself. On the one hand, I'm saying writing a first draft is a dark art and, on the other, that going on a Dadaistic writing frenzy is the path to success.

Both are true.

As long as the idea--even the minutest, sickliest, germ of an idea--comes out in your first draft, even if it only tangentially gestures at the potential possibility of an idea, that's your lightning in a bottle.

On successive drafts you can hone the idea, get to know it, craft it, explore it, develop it. Perhaps, ultimately, the idea that eventually becomes the soul of your story will be another one altogether and your first idea will have served to merely show you the way.

I think that's part of the mystery of writing, why we fall in love with it. At heart, writers are drunk with the power of creation.

Or something like that.

Before I have my second cup of coffee I have two operating brain cells and they're locked in a death match, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Thanks for reading and remember Heinlein's first rule: Writers write.

(See what I mean? The title, "Writers: Masters of the Universe," would have been much cooler.)

Related reading:
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher
- Jody Hedlund: Talent Is Overrated
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

"Writers: In Order To Win We Must Embrace Failure," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.