Fail Together


“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.