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Why failing is okay


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A nice article :smile: Thanks, Cynus!

Even a real failure isn't bad. When I'm doing a computer training course, I learn more when the exercises go wrong than when they go right. They go right when I following the instructions properly. When they go wrong, I learn more about what the software can and can't do, and where it's vulnerable.

With writing, if a story doesn't work, I learn more from what went wrong. I've got two concrete examples in mind. In my "Superhero" short story, I tried to write a story with an unreliable narrator. About half my readers got that, and about half didn't see the point in the story. If you don't realise that the narrator is unreliable, it's a nothing story. Obviously, I needed to give more hints to the reader so that they 'suspend' their 'suspension of disbelief' so that they question more about what they're being told without leaving the story itself. It turned out to be a lot trickier than I thought, and I didn't complete succeed.

The other example was my first attempt to incorporate a minor mystery in one of my novels. When the story posted, I knew from the comments people made that a lot had worked it out within the first few chapters. I took the lessons learnt from that and the next time I tried a similar thing, I made it much more complex and difficult for the reader to work out. From the (minor) failure of my first attempt, I had a much more successful second try :icon1:

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It's remarkable how true his premise is, at least for me. He hit it on the nose: I can be joyous about a story I'm writing, and the next moment be sure it's pig slop. I didn't know everyone felt that way, but I guess it's possible.

I also agree with his statement that having a body of work that's been commended by outsiders is a very steadying thing, something to look at and tell yourself that perhaps it isn't pig slop at all, and might be OK. That thought can be quite reassuring.

C

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It's remarkable how true his premise is, at least for me. He hit it on the nose: I can be joyous about a story I'm writing, and the next moment be sure it's pig slop. I didn't know everyone felt that way, but I guess it's possible.

I also agree with his statement that having a body of work that's been commended by outsiders is a very steadying thing, something to look at and tell yourself that perhaps it isn't pig slop at all, and might be OK. That thought can be quite reassuring.

C

I have never, ever, thought of my writing as pig slop. Maybe terribly overcooked pork ribs, but never pig slop. I guess I've just been lucky.

overcooked-ribs.jpg

(Terribly overcooked pork ribs)

Colin :icon_geek:

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There is an old saying:

The man who never failed never did anything.

Failure is the mechanism by which you learn how to do things.

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Failure is the mechanism by which you learn how to do things.

Which I suppose means that writing is a medium of constant learning, if you accept the premise of the article. I'm good with that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I considered starting another topic for this, but I think it belongs to this thread. This is something I wrote to someone earlier today, relaying a certain failure that had occurred.

"I had something terrible happen to my story today and it almost killed me as a writer. I was writing, perfectly in the zone. I knocked out a solid six hundred words in thirty minutes. They were beautiful, eloquent, and exactly what I wanted them to say.

And then for no reason I can fathom my Microsoft Word froze. I was unable to save, unable to preserve those words which had been written. When I came back into the program after being forced to close it I found no backup or recent document that held those precious thoughts I had committed to text... It was devastating. For about fifteen minutes I had a crisis of epic proportions. I couldn't think, couldn't feel. I made myself numb because I couldn't handle the pain of losing that which I had written and could never get back. Everything I write has a soul, and that soul departed from me. I experienced the death of a loved one, admittedly one that I had only known for a short span of time, but it felt no less tragic.

But then I started writing again... I wasn't going to let it stop me. I wanted to throw in the towel then and there, to give up because I could never replace what was missing... but then I realized that I didn't have to. The soul of the book had not been broken, only one piece of the puzzle had been lost. I started writing again, struggling at first to fill in the blanks in my memory, struggling to put it back just the way it was. It was impossible, but I kept trying, and eventually I had finished. I knew it wasn't the same, but it was almost as if it were better in some small way, like the way a scar can make a man look more distinguished if he learns to wear it proudly rather than hide it away.

I now sit in wonder at the craft... I cannot say that I am pleased that I lost what I did, but I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to overcome that loss. I know what it means to give soul to your work now.

And I think there is no greater calling for an artist."

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I considered starting another topic for this, but I think it belongs to this thread. This is something I wrote to someone earlier today, relaying a certain failure that had occurred.

"I had something terrible happen to my story today and it almost killed me as a writer. I was writing, perfectly in the zone. I knocked out a solid six hundred words in thirty minutes. They were beautiful, eloquent, and exactly what I wanted them to say.

And then for no reason I can fathom my Microsoft Word froze. I was unable to save, unable to preserve those words which had been written. When I came back into the program after being forced to close it I found no backup or recent document that held those precious thoughts I had committed to text... It was devastating.

Auto-Save can be your friend! At the worst, you'll only lose the last few minutes of what you wrote.

If this ever happens again, do a print screen, save a picture of the screen, or just sit there and write down on a pad what's on screen. At least that'll get you something back.

Some of my main "day job" work is in the area of video editing, and I've had some catastrophic situations where computers crashed or circuits failed. Never did I lose more than about 15 minutes work (except in a major case of a software upgrade, which is another story).

But I totally commiserate. We've all been there when our machines failed us and terrible things happened. I have backups, I have standby battery power, I print up what I write every day (on days that I write)... but it's never enough. I'll still lose a nugget here and there, but it's not nearly as bad today as it was then.

We had a close screenwriting friend in the 1980s who sought our advice in buying a new PC. We set it all up for him, then had weekly phone conversations guiding him through the process. One day he called us in a panic because he had called a brand-new script "Big Show" (or whatever it was called). Unfortunately, he had also named his first script "Big Show." The program -- this was early DOS -- dutifully overwrote the original file and kept going.

When he explained what he had done, he said, "I don't understand. Where did my first script go?" I sighed and explained it had gone into the ether. He was borderline hysterical at the thought that about 100 hours of work (which would've paid him about $20K) had vanished. And no, he had never thought to print it out or save a duplicate. That was a sad story, but there are worse. Actress Margot Kidder was working on her autobiography in the early 1990s, and her computer crashed... and lost everything. She was so freaked about it, she had a nervous breakdown and had to be institutionalized for a few days. She finally recovered and said, "well, I guess this was god telling me I didn't need to publish my autobiography."

Computers are evil, nasty machines. Don't trust them for a minute. Pure evil. And use many backups and save often.

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Oh, gee, someone blaming a poor, defenseless, computer again. Which is sitting there laughing it's ass off as your file is sent to the great bit-bucket in the sky.

Colin :icon_geek:

.

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I've certainly experienced losing something I thought was great; I'll bet everyone here has. Yes, it's a horribly empty feeling, and the loss is very real. I've never been able to duplicate what was lost, never felt the rewrite was anywhere near as good.

It happens for a number of reasons. I used to do it all the time using gmail. There's some combination of keys that if you hit, everything goes blooey, and I seemed to hit them quite frequently. Not so much now, but still occasionally. And I've thought I was working on a file that I'd changed the name from what it originally was to something else, and then saved it, erasing the original by doing so. There are other ways, too.

The feeling of loss, of desperation, is very real. I emphasize with you. We probably all do.

C

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Oh, gee, someone blaming a poor, defenseless, computer again. Which is sitting there laughing it's ass off as your file is sent to the great bit-bucket in the sky.

I had a $3 million computer system fail on me at Kodak's Cinesite division in September of 2003. The computer was neither poor nor defenseless; a RAID controller card blew out, taking 10TB of storage with it. The LTO3 restore took us 48 hours and almost got us sued for a million dollars by Disney because it delayed a major feature film.

Tell me: was this the data op's fault? The operating system's fault? The IT manager's fault? IBM's fault (for making the hardware)? My fault? No. Crap happens. Hardware fails. Operating systems have bugs. I accept it as part of life.

But I also accept that wild jungle animals have the appearance of evil. One can argue that they have no concept of good and evil as morality, but from a practical point of view, they are evil in terms of what they'll do to you if they catch you. Consider that there may be more that you don't know in the world than what you do know. I have literally been using computers since before you were born, and I know their limits, their highs, their lows, and their vast power. I've had to use six different operating systems in my life: Apple DOS, CP/M, MS-DOS, various flavors of Windows, Mac OS, and iOS. I'm not a programmer, but I've had to write scripts and do batch routines in my time. They're very useful devices capable of miracles on good days. I couldn't do my job without them.

But I keep them at arm's length and I do not trust them. I think this is a very safe philosophy for all writers to adopt, simply as self-preservation. Know up front that the computer will eventually fail, and all you can do is protect yourself as much as possible with backups and reasonable behavior. And I never, ever take "no" for an answer from a computer. I will get them to work; there'll be blood on the floor and turned-over furniture in the room by the time I finish, but I will get the job done. I'm that kinda guy.

As to the Cloud: I could tell you a painful story about how Apple's iCloud almost completely screwed us in recent months, but I'll save that for another day. Apple is just another kind of madness, with some major, major limitations. I've often said that as time goes on, Mac OSX and Windows are kind of merging together, each taking aspects of the other; the bad news is that Mac OSX is getting worse. I blame Steve Jobs for dying. Many things at Apple have gone downhill in the last 2-3 years. It works to a point, but there are "whip and a chair" aspects to Macs as well.

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I had a $3 million computer system fail on me at Kodak's Cinesite division in September of 2003. The computer was neither poor nor defenseless; a RAID controller card blew out, taking 10TB of storage with it. The LTO3 restore took us 48 hours and almost got us sued for a million dollars by Disney because it delayed a major feature film.

Tell me: was this the data op's fault? The operating system's fault? The IT manager's fault? IBM's fault (for making the hardware)? My fault? No. Crap happens. Hardware fails. Operating systems have bugs. I accept it as part of life.

None of the above, it is just an example of the third law of computing - the more important the event taking place or the person observing the more extensive is the crash that will take place.

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None of the above, it is just an example of the third law of computing - the more important the event taking place or the person observing the more extensive is the crash that will take place.

This is also very true. No less than the former Chief Technical Officer for Sony Pictures once told me they were convinced that random events, phases of the moon, power failures, all kinds of crap can happen with their computer pipeline, all without warning. All you can do is hunker down and prepare for them as best you can. I've seen simultaneous failures in different parts of the building, sometimes with different pieces of software, different operating systems, even different kinds of connections, and it brings the whole party to its knees. Never fun when that happens.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Dropbox, Google Drive, and all the other cloud storage services can be useful. Of course, there are privacy and permanency issues with all of these. Personally, I TrueCrypt the stories before putting them there. At least it gives me some degree of privacy.

For my stories, I have all of them stored in a particular directory on my hard drive. This directory gets automatically copied a few times a day to a different hard drive on the same computer. I manually copy it to a couple different USB drives which are stored elsewhere in the house (still not off site storage) from time to time. Then I Truecrypt the entire thing and copy it to cloud storage regularly. Stories I'm currently working on I encrypt and email to myself, mostly so I can work on them when I'm elsewhere, but partly for backup.

You can tell I've been through my share of catastrophic data loss in my career/life. And yet this still probably isn't enough. Automated, fully private and controlled by me, fully offsite backup and storage is the way to go.

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Dropbox, Google Drive, and all the other cloud storage services can be useful. Of course, there are privacy and permanency issues with all of these. Personally, I TrueCrypt the stories before putting them there. At least it gives me some degree of privacy.

The problem with file encryption is that if the file gets corrupted, the encryption may prevent many disk-recovery utilities from getting the data back. I have seen before where proprietary file formats get so splattered all over the place, because they don't follow the usual OS rules, it makes them very, very fragile in the event of a disaster.

I'm not convinced that any encryption systems are necessary for most people. I have dealt with encrypted files and heavily-password-protected websites for studios accessing dailies for films & TV shows in production, but in this case, these are temporary files that are thrown away every few days -- not the actual movie itself.

As to how to protect yourself: I'm just very careful, keep computer systems offline when necessary, and I don't keep anything on my drives I can't justify having there in the first place. At the same time, I accept that if "they" want to snoop at your email and stuff like that, there's little or nothing you can do to stop them at this point.

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  • 11 months later...

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