Sometimes I’m mistaken for a smart person. Partly it’s because of my nerdy-looking exterior, partly because of my full yet surprisingly soft beard (which is known to make you look up to 50% more wise), and partly due to my large vocabulary.
But really, I’m not that smart. I mean, I know some things, but I don’t feel smart.
You see, I have learnt most of my useful information by failing at something.
It’s the big failures that I’ve got the most out of. Not initially, of course, I thought I was giant a fuck up at first. But over time, the lessons learnt from these blunders seeped into my brain, and then sometimes out of my mouth and onto others. Like right now, for instance.
Like the other editors of The Morning Bell, I too am a former tertiary dropout. I have failed two university courses. Not dropped out – failed. Straight out of high school, I studied games programming. After that, I studied primary teaching. Two completely different courses. Two completely different experiences. Two three semester stints. Two abrupt, calamitous failures.
I may have mostly forgotten how to code, and my teaching skills may have fallen away somewhat, but the middle class street smarts that I picked up, combined with the increase of my already too high cynicism levels, have treated me well in recent years.
So, apart from the fact that a high ENTER/ATAR/whatever score doesn’t mean you’ll do well in your uni course, let me bring me to my next point:
Not only should you learn from your failures, you should be using them in your creative process.
Failure causes conflict.
Failure builds character.
Failure is something for a character to overcome.
Failure creates sticky situations.
Failure is funny. Especially if a character fails at being a good person.
In fact, you’re probably already using your personal failures in your writing, especially if you’re new to the writing world. They say your first work is auto-biographical, they being actually wise, probably bearded writers.
And if you are going to draw from your own life experiences, which you probably are, don’t be afraid to draw on your misfires, no matter what genre you’re writing. Just because you are writing about your low times, you don’t need to be all dark and broody.
Ever seen a stand-up comedian who talked about how great their life is? No, you don’t want to hear that shit. Even Jerry Seinfeld still talks about the little things that annoy him, not his 70 bazillion cars, loving family or comfortable upper class lifestyle. No, even Jerry Seinfeld fails sometimes (hey, remember The Marriage Ref? Anyone?), and he writes about it.
The first pilot script I wrote was basically auto-biographical, and was about my failures. I didn’t even try to do this initially, it just happened. It was about a uni dropout called Jon (why, my middle name is Jon, why do you ask?), who had to read to kids at a primary school. Naturally, Jon cocks it up. Sound familiar?
Now, this wasn’t a great piece of writing and you won’t be seeing ‘Jon the tubby fail-lord’ anytime soon, but when I realised what I was doing, it lead to better pieces of work that weren’t quite auto-biographical but still drew on my past indiscretions.
They, possibly the same they as before, say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s not necessarily true if you’re talking in a physical sense– you can survive having one of your lungs ripped Mortal Kombat style but you will not end up stronger. But your fuck-ups can provide valuable lessons and even more valuable story ideas.
So, go, fail away. Just don’t get yourself killed. You will neither learn anything nor be stronger if that happens.