Why Failure Makes Me Smile

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JK Rowling
I just watched A Year in the Life of JK Rowling. And I loved it.

(If you're in Canada, you can watch it too at the above link. For all non-Canadians, someone please find a website where the rest of the world can watch it and send me the link!)

This documentary on CBC's The Passionate Eye takes a closer look at JK Rowling, specifically at her childhood and the process of writing the Harry Potter series. It follows her during the year she finished writing the last Harry Potter novel. It's a very personal and intimate look at her life.

I enjoyed it because it takes a special look at her inspiration and challenges as a writer. I was struck by the situation of pain and brokenness that led her to begin creating the character of Harry Potter and the battles he would fight. I was surprised by some of her fears and goals as a writer. And I related to some of the wounds she's suffered, like the loss of a parent, which went on to add depth and nuance to her stories.

Talk about heavy stuff!

But here's what made me smile: When she talked about failure. Yes, failure makes me smile.

Rowling summed it up in two satisfyingly frank comments (roughly paraphrased):

1) When wondering whether to sit down and write her first novel, she figured, "What's the worst that can happen? Every publisher in Britain rejects it. Big deal."

Hmm, I like her style. As a writer-hopeful, I'm the kind who'd temporarily forget my reason for living at my first rejection, nevermind my second. And third. Oh my! But hey, if she can handle a whole country worth of rejections, then so can I!

Here's the other thing she said (also roughly paraphrased):

2) "In order for some people to love the book, some have to hate it."

In other words, if you try to please everyone, chances are no one's going to like your work. I knew this of course, but it's always comforting to hear again. If you turn out a quality product and pour yourself into it, you'll inevitably have fans as well as critics.

So I'm feeling reasonably affirmed (again) that it's okay to have critics. The only thing I really have to worry about is whether I'll be willing to learn from the critics, even those who get up on the wrong side of the bed the day they read my stuff.

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure - which is: Try to please everybody.
- Herbert Bayard Swope