Posted on 03/23/2015 at 12:00 AM by Jeffrey Bruner

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ― Thomas Edison.

One of my earliest failures as a journalist happened a year out of college. I covered schools and the state university and every September in Iowa, school board elections take place. 

So I wrote a story for the day of the election with the usual bits and pieces, including the time that polling places opened and closed. And I made the mistake of writing that precincts would be open until 9 p.m. Except they weren't. Voting in school board elections can end at 7 p.m. in the state of Iowa.

My boss, understandably, was furious and chewed me out. I had damaged the newspaper's reputation with my dumb mistake. He made me deliver a letter of apology over to the public library and a prominent correction ran in the paper the next day.

I learned my lesson, though: I never made another mistake dealing with polling times in the hundreds of subsequent election stories I wrote over the next 20 years.

I've failed many, many times since then. But I've rarely made the same mistake twice.

It sounds odd, but we should embrace failure. That means learning from our mistakes.

Yes, sometimes it is someone else's fault. It's always easier to blame someone else. But more likely, it's a mistake we made -- we picked the wrong price, or didn't invest in professional copy editing or a quality book cover. Maybe we created a group of beta readers full of friends and family instead of people who will help make the book better. Heck, it may be all of those things. It may be the book itself.

The very act of writing a book is filled with a million tiny failures. Every sentence does not come out perfect. Some story arcs encounter dead-ends and need to be rethought. 

Take the example of Jennifer Eagan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2012. She goes through 50+ drafts for one of her novels. "The key is struggling a lot," she says.

It's not easy. If it was, everyone would do it, right? 

Struggle. Embrace your mistakes. Learn and grow, both as an author and a person. 

And don't ever, ever, ever give up.
Comments
<p>The question of failure is an interesting one. To me it&#39;s a mistake when a reader points out an embarrassing error or a few that got past my copy editing (paid editor or not -- if you are your own publisher, it&#39;s on you.) It&#39;s a mistake to have incorrectly marketed a book. These are mistakes we can learn from. But I&#39;m not sure a mistake is the same as a &quot;failure.&quot; Yes, when you fail to do something you should have, that&#39;s a mistake, but I&#39;m not sure all mistakes are failures. Failure just feels like a much harsher word with very different overtones. Sometimes, especially with creative work a mistake can result in success. &nbsp;For instance, I was creating a &quot;paperbag&quot; floor in my kitchen a couple of years ago. I wanted to use white butcher block paper and place black diamonds (made of black craft paper) on top for a &quot;tile&quot; effect. When I put down the first of the black diamonds, I discovered to my horror that the gluey-water caused it to run. BIG MISTAKE! But I also realized that I could instead squeeze the running black onto the white paper to create a marble effect. The finished floor looked better than what I&#39;d had in mind. I&#39;m sure people can learn from both mistakes and failures, but they are not the same thing.&nbsp; A writer can do everything right, including writing a good book and presenting it well, but it might still &quot;fail&quot; to sell. That doesn&#39;t mean the book has &quot;failed&quot; -- only that the writer has failed to reach a sales goal which might not have been realistic in the first place. Sometimes the operation goes well, but the patient still dies. &nbsp;</p>
Marion Stein | 05/24/2018 at 02:31 AM
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