Friday, September 24, 2010


While reading some blogs last week, I noticed that two of them mentioned the word failure. An author even asked if not sticking to a goal was a failure. Sometimes we focus too much on this word, thus we forget the end result.

I’ll share an excerpt from the Media Education Foundation transcript, an interview with Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts. This is what he said about failure:

During that whole time, I was worried about my writing and I kept a kind of a journal. I kept taking notes. I kept writing myself letters about what was going on my writing, especially when things got tricky, when I got stuck, when I wandered into a swamp in my writing and I couldn't figure out how to get going again. I would take out a separate piece of paper and write myself a note. Not a pep talk but an attempt to be perfectly empirical. What happened? When did I first start getting stuck? What led to that? Can I figure out what train of thought got me down a blind alley? What was going on with my language? What was going on with my thinking? What was going on with my feelings? And when I got going again I would try to remember to and write myself another note, how did I get out of here? What was the turning point? Was there something I did that helped me get out of this stuck point? Well I wrote myself those notes for three years and kept slipping them in a folder until that folder got to be very fat and full of notes some of them written on the back of envelopes, but I was getting very interested in what was in there. I didn't have much time to explore it, but that folder of notes to myself is what turned into my first book about writing and turned into my first study of the writing process.

Dr. Elbow’s first book on writing was entitled Writing without Teachers. He is also the author of four other books on writing and the writing process.


  1. Claudia, I am not a 'writer', yet I am a writer. I do dabble in writing poetry. I do journal about the books I've read, and I do blog about some of the books I've read. Personally, I consider anything involving reading and writing on a fairly regular basis as a huge success. Interesting and thought-provoking posting, Claudia! Have a wonderful weekend! Cheers! Chris

  2. It's a very interesting way to be quite scientific in evaluating what is in essence a very emotional and subjective and personal opinion of oneself - especially when it comes to being a writer. But I can see how distancing yourself from such a catharsis can help focus and discipline. I tend to wallow in self pity when my stories fail at submission level and whereas my brain tells me to evaluate the reasons why my stories fail my heart just wants to give up. I guess writing what my brain wants me to do might help. It's worth a try! Thanks for this excerpt!

    Take care

  3. Hi Chris,
    Yes, writing and reading go together. I think my latest post applies to anyone, whether they're writers or not. We shouldn't let the word failure intervene in our work unless it serves us as an incentive. ;)

    Dear Old Kitty,
    Believe me, I've been there. I used to feel defeated when my stories were not selected. Now I see that as an opportunity to revise them and make them better. I try to see the positive side of it (it's hard but it can be done).
    Have a lovely weekend!

  4. There is definitely a danger that in thinking too much about the issues of acceptance/rejection we can forget to enjoy the writing process. To a lot of writers rejection = failure, but it's really just a part of learning how to be better. I think if we don't reach certain goals we've set, we really shouldn't beat ourselves up about it. Goodness - isn't life hard enough already?

    When I go through a spell with lots of rejections, I tend to stop and ask myself if I'm enjoying what I'm writing. Often I'm not. In fact I'm writing purely with the goal of publication in mind. When I go back to writing what my heart tells me to write, then it all begins to flow again - and magically something will then be accepted!

  5. Great post, Claudia! I think having supportive writers around you is so important. Blogging, writer's forums, and critique groups are great ways to find support when you feel down. I think helping others is important gies you more purpose than just getting published.

  6. Hi Joanne,
    I apologize for the late reply but I'm travelling as I type (business trip). Haven't had time to check my emails in two days :(
    You're so right though. We're supposed to focus on how much we enjoy writing and not so much on the times we've been rejected. We should take the rejections as learning experiences and an opportunity to improve our work.
    Thank you for stopping by :)
    I'll try to answer all my comments/visit my fellow bloggers as soon as I get home ;)

    Dear Sharon,
    Thank you for leaving a message. As you already know I'm travelling (I left you a message). However, I do agree with you. Getting support from your fellow writers/bloggers/mentors is very important. Getting published is paramount but having a supportive community is equally important.
    I'll come by as soon as I get home.

  7. Hello! I found you on Blog Hop:-) I just finished my first book and I am reaching out to other writers, trying to get an idea of where to go now:-)

  8. Hi Andrea,
    Welcome to my blog community! Glad to hear you found my blog :)
    Thank you for joining. I hope you find my posts helpful in your writing journey. It's good to connect with other writers for support and ideas exchange.
    Keep on writing!

  9. That's a wonderful story, very inspiring :)