Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, is a valuable reference when looking into both becoming a better writer and person. Combining craft and experience, King supplies a no nonsense approach to writing that removes a lot of the decor surrounding many other books and writer workshops. The bare bones of writing, this text demands more from readers; in essence it calls for everyone to just sit down and write.
However, there is much more to this book than the straightforward read and write approach. In the opening pages King remarks on how:
When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.
The importance of failure in any developing writer, or person for that matter cannot be overstated. Too often we receive judgement and then quit if the criticism is not to our liking. Unfortunately this mentality carries on throughout American culture and forces people to take a far more conservative approach to both writing, and life. Failure is seen as the outcome and not a call for improvement.
This sentiment is also shared by Sir Ken Robinson, in one of the most watched Ted Talks to date, who highlights, within education, that failure is not an option to students. Instead, students are taught to learn rudimentary skills designed with specific answers in mind. This methodology is based off of a 19th century model of education directed at industrialism. The result is that learning relies on memory, and in very extreme cases solely on rote instruction intended to get students to pass tests.
The loss within this model of schooling falls on the Arts. Where things like dance, music, acting, and yes, writing (although there are some rigid forms of it which are necessary for the real education) get brushed aside in order to make room for the more practical subjects; the hard sciences in most cases.
However, as we’re seeing while the 21st century unfolds, these hard sciences are falling by the wayside while industries in innovation, founded and fueled by creativity, are gaining traction.
Ironically though, one cannot hope to be creative without first exposing themselves to critique and the possibility of failure.
There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.
This theme, seen among many successful people, is a recurring but also unpopular one.
We teach kids at a very early age to avoid both mistakes and vulnerability. Fear, or the idea of being publicly ridiculed is a huge deterrent when following creative dreams. The result of this mentality leads to minimized risk in hopes of security. And yet, it is absolutely necessary to risk failure when pursuing things outside the realm of everyday vocations; not to mention that security is no longer a guarantee today.
“Failure is not an option” might make for a great pump-up speech during the last few seconds of a critical game in college basketball, but it doesn’t have any place in the creative world. King, call him whatever you like but he is certainly a successful author, remarks on how he:
“Pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor [his typewriter], wrote ‘Happy Stamps’ on [his first] rejection slip…”
and proceeded to put every rejection letter (likely hundreds) on this nail in order to remind himself that failure was part of the game.
The decision to display rather than hide his failures gives insight into the the type of character needed to be successful in both writing and life. Beyond grit, written on in an earlier post featured on this site, an author must be resilient. Moreover, anyone aspiring to be the least bit creative must also be willing to expose themselves to the wellspring of critique which is sure to follow any amount of success.