We all know the story of Thomas Edison. He got his “lightbulb” moment after never giving up. Yes, it is true that the lightbulb itself is an amazing creation. But, what really makes him unique, relatable and a hero is not so much the lightbulb but the fact that he never gave up.
(And yes, I like the lightbulb… I’m afraid of the dark.)
But when a journalist asked him how he dealt with 1,200 failures Thomas simply replied, “I did not fail twelve hundred times. I was successful in finding twelve hundred ways the lightbulb didn’t work.” (Leeds, Dorothy. 7 Powers of Questions. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2000.)
I love that response.
I love that response because I have come to nearly twelve hundred ways that writing doesn’t work for me. And that has been the key to my success.
Acknowledge what doesn’t work.
Looking for the Floodlights
I remember when I first started writing seriously I went to a big wig writing workshop. I was searching for the best way to write and manage my time. I was on a quest to find that pointblank floodlight. Here I was surrounded by people who had it all figured out. I wanted to know where their electricity was stemming from.
Their writing light seemed bright. I wanted to sign up for their electric company.
With my flickering writing flashlight in hand I leaned on their floodlights. So I took vigorous notes on what I should do. I asked questions and searched out a bulk of methods. I came home excited with three new methods to try. But the excitement didn’t last long. Everything I was told wasn’t working for me. Yes, for them it was a success but for me it was bogging down my writing groove.
What I didn’t realize was that I already had some of my writing tips figured out. But, I didn’t know it until I tried following their light. I found that their lights were too yellow or too blue. By evaluating what didn’t work for me, I actually found what worked. They weren’t failures, just steps to success. I had my own magic electric company I was already paying but I had to stand in someone else’s light to figure that out.
Failures: My Writing Lightbulb Moments
You will find that some of these are your writing gems. That’s great! Keep it up. Do what works for you. But if it’s not working then figure out why and realize your failures are just getting you closer to creating your own writing light. Failures are the best way to success. Yet even in my quest for the light bulb moment I still found a little light that directed my writing. Look here for what didn’t work for me but what I learned in the process:
Don’t Edit While You Write. Wow. This was my biggest struggle. I had writing fallouts when I tried this method. I wrote a book in this method and couldn’t write for an entire year after. (Those were my writing dark ages.) I have always edited when I write. I totally get the point of “just getting your story on paper” mentality but for me it ends up being a big pile of wasted paper. I don’t enjoy the writing process when I just spit. For me first time thoughtful writing works (with a few comb overs to cover unsightly baldness).
Writing Lightbulb Moment: So I did learn something in all of this, though. When I just randomly followed the ramblings in my head I found that a magical 6 rewrites did the trick. So although I don’t love throwing words on paper, when I occasionally flip into this method- 6 rewrites fixes it all.
Keep all versions of your drafts. I found myself bogged down by multiple drafts of the same story. I hated them all so it was only tormenting me to keep them. I found I was saving several versions on the computer and suddenly writing was a bear in the forest ready to eat me. For me, keeping all of my drafts depleted my writing enthusiasm and made me avoid tromping through the writing forest at night. Now I just ditch it and move forward while twirling in green daisy infested sunlight hills. (Enter smiley face.)
Writing Lightbulb Moment: I hate paper piles.
Write in the Morning. I was sure this was the big secret ingredient. Most successful writers claimed this one. I was already in the groove of writing in the midnight hour. But, I am a night owl so maybe that’s the difference. I tried to get up and do my best writing in the morning and I found that my to-do list was clomping me over the head. It was driving me crazy because I couldn’t focus. Suddenly all of my writing inspiration was sprinkled with lame to do items. (Wow. And to think that won’t bore someone in a hurry.) But even now instead of midnight writing, I do midday writing. I guess for me “write earlier” is really the trick.
Writing Lightbulb Moment: I have to get the most pressing things done before I can start writing.
BUILDING EDISON’S LIGHTBULB
I have since found many other methods that writing doesn’t work for me. It’s great. It’s all helping me to be a more focused writer. I’m finding my own groove and occasionally the light bulb blares brightly and I can clearly see what I need to do. But, mostly I am just working in the dark. I’m twisting, tweaking, and rethinking through my writing processes to find the ones that make the difference. I’m muddling through my 1,200 ways that don’t work. And all of the so called writing failures- they aren’t failures they are the very important steps that are going to help you make it as a writer.
How close are you to the 1,200 ways that writing doesn’t work for you? Pinpoint what doesn’t work so you can find what really does work. And as always, keep thinking through your fingers.
Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing, blogging, and is a nonfiction junkie. Her stage 4 cancer doesn’t knock down her passion for life and writing. Not a chance. A couple of magazines have published her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her on her blog at howperkyworks.com.