Thanks to Kelly McMichael for pointing me to a video of the speech given by J.K. Rowling at the 2008 Harvard University Commencement. It is entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” There are three main points in the speech: one that focuses on failure versus success, another on having the power to imagine better for the oppressed in our world, and the last on the value of true friends. The speech is some twenty minutes long but well worth your time.
J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement
If you choose not to take the time, then at least take with you this comment:
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you fail by default.”
From the perspective of rejection and failure in the world of writing and publishing it is something to cling to when you realize the journey J.K. Rowling has taken.
Success is a unisex commodity. Don’t we all like the feeling of being considered successful? It’s satisfying to feel in control and be functioning with efficiency, accomplishing what we set out to do.
The fact is, we don’t always accomplish what we intend. I’ve read that less than 10% of people manage to keep their New Year’s Resolutions, and that by the end of January at least 50% have already failed. With odds like that why would anyone make resolutions at all? Why is failure more common than success?
I suspect it’s because we make “ought to” resolutions, not “want to” ones, believing that we need to be something we’re not or that we need to accomplish something we previously couldn’t. Discontent is at the heart of many goals. That’s not to say we should never dream or aspire to great achievements in life. I just wonder if maybe we start by trying to fix the wrong things first. It’s so much easier to succeed with a positive attitude than with a negative one.
But how do we change from seeing a glass half empty to seeing it half full? By not focusing on the container and choosing to examine its contents instead.
My opinion has always been that a positive attitude has its origin in self-acceptance. If we can accept that as a clay vessel we may not seem worth much by our own standards but we are made practical when we allow God to fill and use us, then our perspective will change. Only then are we likely to have the necessary motivation to commit to achievable goals.
Applied to writing, our attitude affects our ability to both create magical words and set practical goals.
Here’s a challenge for you. Write a list, not of resolutions but of desirable possibilities – things that you could do if you wanted to. Things that are within your control. Now pick just one thing on that list that ignites your enthusiasm. One thing that has the potential to make a difference to you. You need that positive spark to set yourself up for success. Telling someone about it will help cement the commitment so share your idea in the comment section. Saying a prayer for the will to act wouldn’t hurt either. Then make a start. If you believe you can do it, you will.
Remember, the only person who is sure to fail is the one who doesn’t try.
This is our last day of… what? Sleeping, leisurely meals, spending time with the family, our sanity? Maybe all of those things, but it’s also the start of commitment, endurance, achievement. We’ve chosen to participate in this writing adventure called NaNoWriMo because we believe there is a worthy and attainable goal just thirty days away.
By accepting the challenge we have each made ourself a promise. We will try and we will keep trying.
And just for good measure take with you the following admonition as you venture into the NaNo forest tomorrow. (I heard it from Jessica Morrell who was quoting Margaret Atwood who in turn had been quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson — sorry, I know that’s convoluted, and now I’m quoting it, too, but it’s so applicable.)
“Doubt not, go forward – if thou doubt, the beasts will tear thee piecemeal.”*
If we stop trying before November 30th the beasts of failure will be there to do more than gloat. They’ll gorge themselves on our self-esteem, mercilessly ripping it from our hearts.
Okay, so I ran out of pithy, encouraging words to use for motivation. Isn’t fear a better motivator, anyway? 😉
[*The Holy Grail, Alfred Lord Tennyson]
No, it’s not winter yet. It’s just… well, here’s the story–
It’s not often that I voluntarily expose a personal failure, especially not right out here in cyberspace for scrutiny by all the world (or whatever small portion of said world might find its way to my blogging doorstep). But in a weak moment I agreed to share my experience with Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of writing as a guest post on Jordan McCollum’s website today.
My attempt at snowflake storytelling design wasn’t pretty. In fact, as a plotting device it didn’t end up resembling a snowflake at all. You’ll find the story of my sorry attempt posted there if you’d like to mosey on over. You can even leave a comment but please say something nice; ridicule is hard on my morale.
Between Christmas and New Year’s Day resolutions seem to be on many minds. For more years than I care to reveal, my chief New Year’s Resolution was to begin a diet and fitness routine. If success could be measured in adhering to the semantics alone I would be able to say I was successful because every year I would “begin” anew. My failure was in not continuing. That’s one reason why I no longer make resolutions. Setting myself up for failure isn’t good for morale.
I’m getting smarter. Instead of resolving to do something that is very likely beyond the boundaries of my reality, I make a list of things I intend to do. Intentions involve more commitment than a wish or desire, but don’t involve a self-inflicted promise. So if I don’t manage to achieve everything I intend, the disappointment won’t be too demoralizing.
Intentions can start me moving towards a goal in ways that resolutions never can. So I’m beginning to compile a new list of them for the coming year. Mostly they involve writing goals. The list will nudge me to push past recent procrastinations and refocus on what’s important to me at this stage in the process towards publication. After I complete the list perhaps I’ll share it with you… or not. At the moment I don’t want to be inhibited by worries of what others might think of my intentions. I’ll leave the “after” until after and see how I feel about it then.
What about you? Do you make resolutions and, if so, do they work for you or do they result in frustrating failure year after year? How do you deal with it?