Thursday, December 12, 2019

Failures That Benefit a Writer

I thought I would take a different approach to this month's theme of "favorite failures" by highlighting three corporate failures that ended up benefiting those of us in the writing community. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has come to rely on these products to get us through revisions, and our personal writing failures.

1. INK JET PRINTER: When a Canon engineer rested his hot iron on  a pen by mistake, ink ejected from the pen's point moments later. This principle led to the ink jet printer we all know and love/hate.

2. While trying to create a strong adhesive, Spencer Silver - a researcher at 3M Labs - ended up with a formula weaker than what was already available. It stuck to objects but could be easily pulled away.  It wasn't until years later that a colleague spread the substance on pieces of paper to mark his place in a hymn book that the idea for this popular product was born.

3. Finally, when failure has gotten the best of us, and we just need something to make us feel better, here is one of the world's tastiest failures. Created by Ruth Wakefield, a baker at the Toll House Inn, CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES were created when Ruth ran out of baking chocolate while making a batch of cookies. So she broke sweetened chocolate into small pieces and added them to the dough. Instead of melting, they held their shape.

The rest, as they say, made history.

Our next failure may very well lead to something bigger and better.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


by Jody Feldman

Here’s something you may not know about me. I’ve written at least 18 novels you’ve never had the chance to read. They sit in my files, in various stages of disrepair. Thanks to this month’s blog theme, I will now call them my Favorite Failures. Or maybe not.

Maybe I’ll take the Thomas Edison approach. In his quest to invent the lightbulb, he said:
“I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work.”

That’s better. That’s how I think about my hidden stash of stories.

I wrote most of them when I was learning how to write a novel. Of course I understood the whole concept of plot and character and setting, but I didn’t begin to comprehend all the elements and nuances that jettison writing to that publishable level and beyond. Even today, I’m still learning.

One day, perhaps, you’ll see some of these novels in your bookstores and libraries. Others, however, will remain my workbooks, my homework pages, my due diligence.

Just like organizing consultant Marie Kondo suggests we do, I thank these stories for serving their purpose. Contrary to what Marie Kondo suggests, I will not delete; they will continue to hang out in my files. Some of them are waiting to be reimagined, repurposed; waiting to bloom into their full glory. I remain hopeful for these stories.

So, in these dwindling weeks of the current year, let’s raise a glass. Here’s to using the old to invent the new. And in that spirit, let’s refuse to call our previous attempts failures but, instead, launching points to success.
L’Chaim! To life!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

My Favorite Failure? -- by Jane Kelley

Who can choose a favorite anything? This question is impossible to answer for a parent of many children or an author of many books.

Failures are just as difficult––maybe because there are more of them. I've filled dozens of journals over the years. A few of those pages have made it into print. Most haven't. A character named Meredith actually appeared in three different works-in-progress, all of which are still buried in the scrap heap.

One persistent little fellow managed to rise from the dead. His name had changed from his early life, but his outrageous behavior was the same. So was his desire to be a super hero and save the day. And now his book sits on my shelf.

Fabulous cover by Jessika von Innerebner
I first wrote about Clint McCool shortly after my debut MG novel was published. Back then, his antics were too much for me. Just like the fictional grown-ups in his life, I had no idea how to control his manic energy. In fact one editor's comment on an early version was that he exhausted her. Zing, zong, zing! Clint McCool had way too many ideas––and so did I.

Luckily a wise editor Bonnie Bader suggested that maybe 300 pages of brain flashes were a little much. She asked me to turn the middle-grade novel into a chapter book. With those limits, Clint McCool was saved. When the publisher wanted a second book, I had plenty of escapades from that longer version ready to go. In Sol Ray Man and the Freaky Flood, I even got to use another of my favorite characters--Clint McCool's former babysitter.

Illustration by Jessika von Innerebner

Clint McCool and Mrs. Brussels were lucky. I doubt that poor Meredith will be. I don't dwell on the books that might have been. And yet many of my personal disappointments have provided subtexts for my novels. Nursing those losses has forced me to think deeply about them. That made them excellent grist for my mill.

You never know when a character from a failure will spring into action and, like Clint McCool, save the day.

In fact, my current work in progress relies upon that.

Eventually, I hope, it will be my new favorite failure.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Redefining Failure

my first book in the
children's market,
released Jan. 2010
As I reflect on the past decade -- which is also my first decade in the publishing industry, as my first middle grade novel LEAVING GEE'S BEND was released January, 2010 -- I find that one of the most important things I've learned or am learning is how to redefine failure.

Like many of us creative types, I am super-sensitive to the world, and especially to failure. I don't like to fail. I don't like rejection. It can make me want to curl up in a hole and disappear.

But. These days I'm aware that a simple shift in thinking can make all the difference. Mistakes are essential to learning. And what good does it do to beat ourselves up over those mistakes? Which is why I am actively working each day to throw out the old language of "What was I thinking?" after making a mistake/experiencing failure, and shifting that to: What was I LEARNING?

my next (9th) book
in the children's market
releasing Feb. 4, 2020
Whenever I remember that mistakes and failure are part of the process, and merely stops along the way, I find my heart and mind open again to the muses. I can move forward instead of getting stuck in the muck. I can forgive myself for being an imperfect human. Side benefit: it's also helping me be more forgiving of other people's failures, too. And that is a beautiful thing indeed! Also: this theme shows up in MEET MISS FANCY (my latest book for children) as well as my next one!

Irene Latham lives on a lake in rural Alabama. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she is the author of hundreds of poems and nearly twenty current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books from publishers including Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Lerner, Boyd Mills/Kane. Her books have been recognized on state lists and honored by NEA, ALA, NCTE, SIBA, Junior Library Guild, Bank Street College and other organizations.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Daily Grind I Don't Want

By Charlotte Bennardo

A number of writers I know journal. I've only been successful at it once.  I wrote about the whole tedious, unfair-unless-you're-a-white-male, degrading experience of going through both the criminal (not me, I was the victim), and the civil court system. Writing helped to keep me sane during a process that took 8 years, left me in debt (even though I 'won'), gave me an ulcer, and ultimately, convinced me that our system is really flawed (although I don't know a better alternative). I filled up one of those black and white notebooks we all used in elementary school. Once the trials and farce that is our legal system was over, and my life was my own again, I closed the book, and have never read what I wrote. I never want to read it, so I don't know why I keep it.

For me, journaling was the way I exorcised that time in my life that was just too unbearable to talk about with anyone. I should burn the book because I will never use those experiences in my writing because they are too painful and personal. So yes, I was successful, but no, I never want to do it again.

Photo courtesy of Negative Space, Pexels.

At this point, I want to write all the stories in my head, not jot down my feelings and observations that I will never revisit on the page. Oh, I know I could journal just a sentence, maybe even a single word, but I don't want to invest time in any writing that once written, will be pushed aside and forever ignored. I admire people who can do both. I probably could if I wanted, but I don't want to.

Now...what to do with all those pretty journals I bought or had given to me? I use them for story ideas; this way, I will always have a story idea to write about. So I guess that is journaling in a way, isn't it? I'm journaling my ideas. As I've written previously, I don't always have a notebook with me, so I've written ideas on my arms, on the bottom of my shoes, on napkins. That's journaling, too, right?

I guess I am a successful journaler, but I'm doing it My Way.

Do you journal?