How To Fail Better

wake up daddy's home

I know. Three weeks is a long time to go without a post from me. I miss my voice sometimes too. Never fear; I’m back.

So, recently Pepper’s been going to a Pilates class.

Now because I have absolute faith in Pepper’s abilities, and because I’ve never known her to be bad at anything except remembering not to turn my music down when she interrupts me, I expected her to be good at it. Not to mention the fact that she’s one of the youngest people in the class, and she’s athletic (especially after Natasha taught her a few things).

And apparently she expected to be good at it too. But she’s not. She can’t balance, and her upper body strength is actually far less than she expected.

It can be a pretty overwhelming feeling, suddenly realising you’re not as good at something as you thought you were. Not that I’ve ever experienced it, because I’m brilliant at everything, but I have a good imagination. I’m brilliant at that, too.

Let’s take a purely hypothetical example so that nobody decides to try and take down Avengers Tower by challenging Pepper to a Pilates match or something.

Imagine you’ve been blogging for five years. You’ve always got straight As in English at school; maybe you even went on to study it at university. Hey, you might even have done some creative writing modules, and you’ve loved reading since you were a kid. So when you sit down to write your first novel, everybody expects you to be good at it. You expect yourself to be good at it.

And then you’re not.

The hardest bit isn’t getting better: anybody can do that. You know the secret to getting better? Keep trying, keep failing, but fail better. No, the hard bit is realising you’re bad at something. Otherwise every time you fail, you’ll fail the exact same way.

You might actually be pretty great at novels, although everybody’s first MS is usually a total disaster, and even the greats need to redraft. But you’re terrible at blogging. Or you’re terrible at non-fiction, so when you’re asked to write an article or an essay, you’re stumped. Just because you’re good at one act of wordsmithery, doesn’t mean you’re great at all of them.

Pepper’s awesome at knocking people out with a briefcase while tottering down stairs on high heels in a pencil skirt, but she’s not so good at press-ups.

Five steps to failing better:

1) Know that you have failed.

Accept your failure. Embrace it. Know that failing means you tried. Look at the complete pile of poop that is your first novel / your early attempts at blogging / the essay that’s due at midnight tonight, and say, “Look, I made a thing. It sucked. But it’s a thing.” After all, when toddlers poop in a potty, we congratulate them, because they did a thing. So. You’ve done the thing.

2) Examine the manner in which you have failed.

What’s the worst part of this piece of work? Is it your writing style; do you need a grammar refresher, or a magical creature to follow you around and obliterate your superfluous adverbs? Maybe it’s just that every reader is going to hate your characters and want them to die, or that your plot has more holes in it than Hulk’s trousers after he’s transformed. Analyse the problem.

3) Ask for help

Okay, I lied. This is the hardest bit. Ask somebody to check your grammar; ask them to point out the problems with your characters; ask them what would make the tension higher, the novel more interesting, the concept less contrived. If it’s non-fiction, ask them to pick holes in your argument, so that you know where to reinforce it.

4) Rewrite it, and then ask for help again.

And probably they’ll tell you it’s still crap. So try again. And again.

5) Fail again, but fail better.

It’s still a pile of poop, but hey, it’s a slightly better pile, isn’t it? And it’s actually in the potty this time. You’re halfway to leaving your writing diapers behind. Keep trying. Write another one and another and another, until you’re no longer failing, and you’re beginning to feel like you’re good at it. Pepper’s got to strengthen her upper arm muscles slowly – she can’t bench-press her own weight immediately. In the same way, you have to flex that writing muscle over and over again until it’s strong enough of win the fight against your novel / essay / whatever.

Now go forth and fail, friends.


Pepper just interrupted me to say I could’ve used a personal example instead of picking on her. Yeah, I could. I didn’t. And in the meantime I really need to stop JARVIS alerting her every time I type the word ‘Pepper’ in a blog post. That’s going to get annoying.

-- Iron Man


  1. Your wisdom astounds me, as does your ability to put the grandest of concepts-- learning to write better-- into the most mundane of thrones (namely, a porcelain one that flushes). I enjoyed this thoroughly.

    1. Why, thank you. I'm hugely flattered. And I learned from a master of the art -- Chuck Wendig, who can reduce anything and everything to toilet humour or worse. I find it makes things easier to digest.

      See, that pun wasn't even intentional. This crap just comes naturally. That one was unintentional too -- these wordplays are coming thick and fast! Damn, I gotta stop doing this...

      -- Iron Man