If At First You Don’t Succeed, Read “The Success of Failure”

We’ve all heard it before: You have to fail to succeed. It’s a sentiment that’s true, but often daunting. As a writer, how many rejection slips do you collect before you throw up your hands? How many drafts do you write before you decide the piece just plain stinks?

Before you toss that story away forever, there’s good news, fellow failurephobes!  CNN has posted an inspiring piece called The Success of Failure in their ongoing series on creativity. The piece mentions many successes who have endured their fair share of failure including Abe Lincoln, George Clooney, J.K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, and Conan O’Brien. But the piece centers on writer Jennifer Egan (remember her from two posts ago?)

In the piece, Egan reveals that her novels go through about 50 or 60 drafts, and she has abandoned writing projects altogether. Knowing when to abandon projects can prove to be tricky. Egan says she struggled with this conundrum when writing The Keep.

A lot of it is trying to understand what kind of dead end it is, because they aren’t all the same,” she says. “With ‘The Keep,’ I was essentially at a dead end for the first many months of working on it, because I couldn’t find a voice for it. And if you don’t have a voice, you’ve got nothin’. You can try every bell and whistle and good idea in the world, but if the book doesn’t have a voice, you don’t have a book.”

But for some reason I kept hammering away at it, which certainly in retrospect could have been a terrible waste of time if I hadn’t found a way,” she said.

In the end, the article focuses on soldiering through, even when you’ve given up on something, or refuse to give up on a project even though it’s looking grim. As Egan says during the interview: “The key is struggling a lot.


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