Philosophical Thoughts

Failure Leads to Success

Writing failures lead to future successful writing.

Most of us don’t like the thought of any type of failure. The word itself has such a negative connotation for many of us regardless of our cultural background. When we set out to complete a project, strive towards a goal, or develop a specific skill set, we often put everything we can muster into the situation. Therefore, when the results come in less than stellar, and we perceive the effort has lead to some type of failure, we find ourselves depressed, saddened, and disappointed. Often times, this process feels like the end of the road, and the individual experiencing the failure must then decide to either try again or walk away.

As a writer, I, too, have experienced this recursive writing process of identifying mistakes made, improving the process, and determining whether I want to pursue the intended goal or dismiss it from the foreseeable future. From an academic perspective, this situation is echoed through returned graded essays. Maybe a student has written what they felt should be an A paper, yet cringed to find a C in bold red at the top of the page. For an author, maybe they thought they had just completed the next bestseller, only to find their book sales meandering next to zero sales. Everyone’s experiences will vary, but one thing remains the same; it happens to everyone.

Collin Brooke and Allison Carr describe this phenomenon best by elaborating, “…in reality, every idea from every discipline is a human idea that comes from a natural thoughtful and (ideally) unending journey in which thinkers deeply understand the current state of knowledge, take a tiny step in a new direction, almost immediately hit a dead end, learn from that misstep, and through iteration, inevitably move forward” (63). Everyone experiences failure in some capacity throughout life. The difference is whether they allow the experience to define them. Finding a way to utilize the lessons of failure in a classroom setting by altering pedagogical structure would be most beneficial to students. “Embracing failure in the writing classroom in these ways makes failure speakable and doable” (Brooke and Carr 63). By changing how we view failure in academic settings, maybe students will begin to see it as just a stepping stone leading to better writing technique in lieu of the end result.

GCFLearnFree.Org is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching skills that are needed for our modern-day society (2019). In the video provided below, they discuss the recursive cycle of writing and bring up valid points related to learning from failure.

What can we learn from failure?

The topic of revision in writing, while often not met with excitement by writers, is a central piece of developing one’s writing, according to Doug Downs (66). As he explains, “First, unrevised writing (especially more extended pieces of writing) will rarely be as well suited to its purpose as it could be with revision. Second, writers who don’t revise are likely to see fewer positive results from their writing than those who build time for feedback and revision into their writing workflows” (66). Downs further explains that revising shouldn’t be an indicator of poor writing. Actually, it should be an indicator of more skilled writing as the author has taken the time to polish and improve the prose.

Contrary to popular belief, I believe it is essential for each of us to remember that as Shirley Rose described, “The ability to write is not an innate trait humans are born processing” (59). Further explained by Moats and Tulman, “human brains are naturally wired to speak; they are not naturally wired to read and write.” Writing, like most things in life, takes practice. The more a writer practices the skill, the more natural the process will become. And, more importantly, failure is the key to success. Each failure a writer experiences will add to the learning. The more we learn, the better we become. So, the next time you feel as though you have failed at something, remember, it only sets you up for future success. Embrace the challenge to try again, and you never know where the trail will lead.

Works Cited

Altmann, Gerd. Pixabay. 2019, pixabay.com/illustrations/words-letters-disillusionment-416435/

Brooke, Collin and Allison Carr. “Failure Can Be an Important Part of Writing Development.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition, edited by Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 62-64.

Downs, Doug. “Revision is Central to Developing Writing.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition, edited by Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 66-67.

GCFLearnFree.org. Goodwill Community Foundation, Incorporated, 2019, edu.gcfglobal.org/en/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2019.

“Learning From Failure.” YouTube, uploaded by GCFLearnFree.org, 10 July 2019 May 2019, youtu.be/MQx39z99_Js.

Moats, Louisa and Carol Tolman. “Speaking is Natural; Reading and Writing Are Not.” Reading Rockets, www.readingrockets.org/article/speaking-natural-reading-and-writing-are-not. Accessed 22 Sept. 2019.

Rose, Shirley. “All Writers Have More to Learn.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition, edited by Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 59-61.

“The Recursive Writing Process.” YouTube, uploaded by Mometrix Academy, 16 May 2019, youtu.be/WVrvfSFrCwc.

3 Comments

  • Danny Madore

    “When we set out to complete a project, strive towards a goal, or develop a specific skill set, we often put everything we can muster into the situation. Therefore, when the results come in less than stellar, and we perceive the effort has lead to some type of failure, we find ourselves depressed, saddened, and disappointed. ” I love this quote and it really resonated with me. I think a lot of people, especially writers, put way too much pressure on themselves with their writing. Even when it is just the first draft, writers, like myself, become frustrated if the piece is not turning in to what they imagined. However, if we can understand that failure and writing go hand in hand, and that, most often, you will need to write something terrible before you can write something you are proud of, then maybe we can breath easier and write more freely.

  • Miro Jefferis-Nendick

    Melinda,

    I think telling students immediately that they should fail when the right hopefully will get people over their fears…hopefully. It’s so engrained in cultures that failing is bad, so I think the quicker we can let them know it’s ok the better they’ll feel. I think it goes for most of the arts in general. Few get it perfect the first or second or third try. It’s a long term commitment. And I think we’re both on the same page for revision. It can seem like a pain, but the benefits outweigh so much else. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nikki

    Melinda,

    I wonder how we can incorporate the lessons that we learn from “failure” into a classroom exercise. Additionally, I saw that you mentioned being at a point where you are deciding if you want to continue working on a project, or whether you want to abandon it. What questions do you ask yourself when you are at that point?

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