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Failure - the only way to succeed

Rocky: I can't do it.

Adrian: What?

Rocky: I can't beat him.

Adrian: Apollo?

Rocky: Yeah. I been out there walkin' around, thinkin'. I mean, who am I kiddin'? I ain't even in the guy's league.

Adrian: What are we gonna do?

Rocky: I don't know.

Adrian: You worked so hard.

Rocky: Yeah, that don't matter. 'Cause I was nobody before.

Adrian: Don't say that.

Rocky: Ah come on, Adrian, it's true. I was nobody. But that don't matter either, you know? 'Cause I was thinkin', it really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.

I tend to find that people become more upset, more low in mood, the more they try to control things which are outside their power to control.

The more they say it must be that way, the worse it gets. American Election results. Being afraid of being late and finding the train is cancelled. That friend we know in love with someone who isn't interested enough, but who vainly chases after them.

And if there's one thing that makes us feel out of control the most, it's a culture which now bombards us with demands, which says we must succeed or, to put it more aptly, "avoid failure".

My hatred of the words "Not bad"

I think British people's emotions need recalibrating.

Ask someone how they are, and most of the time they'll say "not bad". This means not that things are actually good, but that there's just an absence of bad. Bad may turn up soon, but at the moment, the best news we can impart is that it hasn't turned up yet.

However, the words I hear a lot when things are bad? Terrible. Awful. Horrendous. How many people do you know who just say "oh, you know, not good" ?

So we are aligned to having fear of things going wrong or just waiting for them to go wrong. So then, how should we be encouraged? What is awesome about risking failure?

The power of pottery for screenwriters

True study: A pottery teacher divides his class into two.

He tells one set, Team A, that they have to come back in a week with the best pot they can make. It has to be great.

He tells the others, Team B, that they have to make as many pots as they can, quality be damned.

A week later, and the results are in. Team B's pots are much, much better than Team A's.

They failed repeatedly until they established how to do it right. Their initial failures have helped them learn. Team A, working on that one great pot? Not even close.

So there's already an advantage to failing. Awesome, right? You're off the hook! Fail away! Fail until you fail less until you succeed. Rinse and repeat.

Everyone has met someone who has one script. They change it, trying to make it the perfect one.

Don't. Keep practicing, improving. Take new risks. And take that from the man who went back and read the first screenplay he ever wrote the other day. Exposition city. Chains of dialogue. A muddled mess.

Then I read my latest one. It's nice to see how far I've come since then. And how far I can still go.

This is without all the motivational posters you can find on the internet of all those successful people who failed before. JK Rowling? Michael Jordan? Steve Jobs? They and many more, all with eloquent statements about how failure got them to success. So if you don't trust me, trust J.K.

Characters fail until they succeed - and so should you

The only way to avoid failure is to avoid living. On the flip side, the only way to live is to risk failure.

And that's a lesson the characters we write tell us again and again. What kind of character do we love that doesn't fail? Doesn't endure? No character we love just succeeded. Just got their reward. If failures bring our characters to life, they can bring us to life too.

I forgot that in Rocky, Rocky doesn't even think he can win against Apollo. And he doesn't. Apollo wins. But Rocky wanted to go the distance. He kept getting knocked down. Kept coming. And knowing you put in the effort means you know your worth, regardless of the result. And as we all know, it's only because of that that he got another shot and won.

Any writer will know many rejections, even the most successful ones. Failure surrounds them. But they keep going. And they endure. And if you know you put in that effort, what you had in the tank, you'll be cool.

So keep going.

Happy new year. Now get writing... there's failures to learn from.


Some sites for your interest and further reading, including a good pummelling for writers from Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean) about failure:

Viewpoint: How creativity is helped by failure

The fear of failure: Understanding the Psychology behind it

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