Fail your way to Success

“Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, I have failed three times, and what happens when he says, I am a failure.” — S. I. Hayakawa

Failing is an essential part of life. I sincerely hope you failed at something this week. Perhaps you botched a recipe, missed a few questions on an exam, or were rejected by the opposite sex. Congratulations.

If you’re not failing, you’re stagnating. Instead of moving forward, falling and scraping your knee, you’re pedaling in place, on the stationary bike that is your existence. You’re comfortably getting nowhere.

Failing is essential to the creative process. Ideas and creative works perish, in a process akin to natural selection: multitudes are born, most will die. The best make it, and provide seeds for future growth.

I’ve always been a fan of the Onion, the satirical newspaper that offers some of the most cutting, clever humor you’ll find anywhere today. Consider the work that goes into it: the writers of the Onion start with 600 potential headlines each week, and over two days, select a mere 16 to appear in their paper:

This American Life – Tough Room, 2011

I found this story to be rather inspiring, especially with my background in stand-up comedy. It made me feel better about all my failed jokes. If anything, it made me realize I wasn’t writing, testing and refining enough bad jokes.

A good artist needs to maintain a high, exacting standard. Produce and create first, and soberly assess, revise or discard afterward. Repeat!

Advice for Poets

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, 17th century rock star poet

If you have any interest in writing poetry, here are a few words of advice from Lord Rochester:

“To write what may securely stand the test

Of being well read over, thrice at least,

Compare each phrase, examine every line,

Weigh every word, and every thought refine,

Scorn all applause the vile rout can bestow

And be content to please those few who know.”

This is a small excerpt from An Allusion to Horace. The 10th Satire of the 1st book.

More on that later.