How to move on after failure

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a video describing how to move on after failure…

I never thought I’d get writing advice from an astronomer. But I did when I watched a recent TED talk by Erika Hamden.

Hamden leads the team building FIREBall, a telescope that hangs from a giant balloon at the edge of space and looks for clues about how stars are created. In her seven-minute talk, she describes the decade-long journey to get the telescope from an idea into orbit.

As I listened to her describe the multitude of failures the project endured — from the charming (a baby falcon flew into the building area) to the heartbreaking (a hole in the telescope led it to collapse in the desert) — I was reminded of many writing failures I’ve suffered.

  • The time a politician failed to call me back after winning an election — and I had held space on the front page for a non-existent story
  • The time I typed the wrong code for a story and it jammed up the typesetting system by printing the entire text  in 78 pt type (huge) rather than the expected 9 pt.
  • The time I took two hours to write a 250-word story
  • The time a desker (copy editor) I worked with edited a story and made Jane Austen’s great novel Pride and Prejudice into two books, Pride AND Prejudice. (He wasn’t well read.)

Mistakes happen. But if we focus only on the mistakes we do ourselves a massive disservice. As Hamden describes the situation: “It might feel like a failure today but it’s only going to stay a failure if I give up.”

That sentiment about how to move on after failure is as true for writers as it is for astronomers.

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