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2.7: It's Okay to Fail

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    In fact, knowing what I know about learning to write\(^{32}\) (as a writer and a writing teacher myself), I would argue that it is impossible for one to develop anything approaching a good writing ability without years—decades, probably—of repeated failure. We aren’t born pen in hand, fully primed to write sonnets or political treatises as soon as we get a grip on those fine motor skills. Writing is learned slowly, over a long period of time, and with much difficulty, and anybody who says otherwise is lying or delusional or both.

    What should be clear is that failure is a significant part of the entire scene of learning, an assertion that, again, is borne out by widely respected research. Malcolm Gladwell isn’t wrong when he insists upon the 10,000-hour rule, which, in suggesting that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master anything (shooting free-throws, playing an instrument), implicitly builds in a generous rate of failure. It’s true that writing is not stable in the way that chess is stable, but the broad message of Gladwell’s limited theory—that to excel at anything takes a tremendous amount of practice and persistence— easily aligns with prevailing thought on what is central to development in writing: Writing is difficult and complex, and development is not linear.\(^{33}\)

    Failure is integral to learning and development, more so than external markers of achievement or success. An avoidance of failure in learning, or in writing, or in industry or parenting or any other human/community endeavor, represents an absence of creativity and an abundance of predictability, little to no risk, and perhaps even harmful or counter-productive thinking. 

    Instead, teachers, scholars, mentors, and anybody involved in the conversation about writing development should be taking concrete steps toward normalizing failure

    Writing is not a list of dos and don’ts, nor is success in writing a universally acknowledged ideal. Writing is about risk and wonder and a compulsion to make something known. Failure—and a willingness to fail often in large, obvious ways—should always be an option.



    \(^{32}\)Snippet from = Carr, Allison D. “Failure Is Not An Option.” Bad Ideas About Writing. Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Libraries, Digital Publishing Institute, 2017. CC-BY.

    \(^{33}\)This is why teaching students to follow the steps of the writing process perfectly is not ideal.


    This page titled 2.7: It's Okay to Fail is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sybil Priebe (Independent Published) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.