Writing and the Creative Life: “Nothing succeeds like failure”
Re-thinking the role of failure in the creative life.
As writers, we have to learn how to handle losses and let-downs. Why? Because it is a constant dynamic in our lives. I was reminded of this yesterday when screenwriter Brian Koppelman (Rounders, Solitary Man, Oceans Thirteen) posted the following tweets:
The Rounders screenplay was passed on by every single agency. Not some. Every. I wrote down their responses. Not one thought it would sell.
Failure is painful. I know. I’ve failed. The sting of rejection isn’t a sting; it’s a gut punch. So get up, start again. Or they win by TKO.
Hey, look, Hollywood may be right to reject one particular script. That’s not a rejection of you. It’s only final judgement if you stop.
Risk failure, don’t try to game what they want, write what gets you pumped, work your ass off to make it great & start the next one asap.
This take re-frames the perception of failure. Instead of thinking about it as… you know… failure, we should instead look at it as an expected, even necessary part of the creative process.
If the more times we fail, the more times we succeed, then instead of looking at failure as a negative, we can benefit by embracing it as a positive.
And that doesn’t even pull into consideration what we can learn from our failures.
As I was writing this, I was reminded of my high school tennis coach. I can only remember three things about him: his ruddy face, his buzzcut hair, and something he used to say quite often to us:
“Nothing succeeds like failure.”
I always thought that was the damnedest thing to say to a sports team. What, so you want us to fail? In retrospect, I think he was trying to plant a seed in us for our lives down the road, knowing that we would face inevitable failures, and recast how we might experience that.
And as I was strolling down that particular corner of Memory Lane, it occurred to me to see what other coaches and sports figures had to say about the subject. After all, a baseball player who fails to get a hit 7 out of 10 times at the plate can make the Hall of Fame which means by default they deal with a lot of failure. Here are a few choice quotes:
Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.
– John Wooden
I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
– Michael Jordan
About the only problem with success is that it does not teach you how to deal with failure.
– Tommy Lasorda
The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.
– Vince Lombardi
Finding the courage and commitment to write is not only the way to make things happen to further your career… it’s also where the real glory is, that act of embracing your creativity and against all odds making something out of nothing. At an existential level, that is the very definition of success.
And if you fail in the marketplace? Sure, it hurts, a “gut punch” like Brian Koppelman says. But if you keep trying, keep pushing, you can use that failure…
To build a bridge to success.
You may follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKoppelman.
Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.
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