Failing With the Red Pen in Hand

While reading through this week’s chapter I came across a passage that resonated with me: “successful writers aren’t those who are simply able to write brilliant first drafts; often, the writing we encounter has been heavily revised and edited and is sometimes the result of a great deal of failure” (Brooke and Carr 62). This is such an important concept that people and especially students need to know. And as a writer it’s frustrating that people believe that all we do is pump out “brilliant first drafts” or that we don’t even create drafts but one perfect piece of writing. The second part of the passage is just as important as the first. Thinking about all the writing I’ve read and how many edits it’s been through gives me some comfort, and I’d hope it would give others comfort as well. More people, and by default students, need to know that writing comes from failure. And often not just failure but “a great deal of failure”.

Failure is a good thing when you write. To be a good writer you NEED to fail.

In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she says that “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere” (Lamott 303). Take my own writing for example. Firstly assuming that my writing is “good”, because I feel like most people don’t like to seem narcissistic, but that’s neither here nor there. When I first started to write I know for a fact it was truly awful. Despite reading books all my life I didn’t make my dialogue its own line, but rather imbedding the dialogue in the sentences making it impossible to read. The story itself had a lot of problems. It sometimes wasn’t clear to follow, the action darted all over the place, and the characters were very one dimensional. But it didn’t matter! Like Lamott says “You need to start somewhere”.

Embrace failure in writing. You’ve earned it!

“Failure is an opportunity for growth” (62) says Brooke and Carr, and I resoundingly agree. In writing, failure is fantastic. Just trying to find some silly memes about failing and writing I stumbled upon so many articles, pictures, and even books. If you’re a fan of Bob’s Burgers or Archer then check out Jon H. Benjamin’s Failure Is an Option: An Attempted Memoir. There are so many things in life that we’re told we “can’t fail at” or “shouldn’t fail at”, and then there’s writing. “They must have the opportunity to try, to fail, and to learn from those failures as a means of intellectual growth” (Brooke and Carr 62). Who would think writing some fanfiction or a shitty novel would cause “intellectual growth”?  And yet it does! And I love it for that. Learning what “failure” is, is important, and it also radiates through other aspects of your life.

Remember, failure is important and a great thing while you write!

The last thing you need to know from this chapter is that “revision is central to developing writing” (Downs 67). There’s a fear of revision. A fear of the red pen marking all over your work. A fear that “revision is punishment” (Downs 67). I know that so many people truly fear revision, and I think it has to do with school and by default grades. I think too many teachers focus on these “bad” things in peoples writing and treat them as bad and send fear into the owner of these “bad” things. While instead we should be excited by these “bad” things, and look forward to the red pen. I love when my work comes back to me covered in red because then I can improve it. If there’s nothing to improve then what are we supposed to do? Revision is hard, however, and like writing requires a lot of practice. I found this fun website that shows just how hard proof reading is.

I hope this week was helpful and insightful. And I hope you’ll all fail and fall in love with the red pen <3

Works Cited

Blackwell, Wes. Let The Inspiration Rain Down! 2018., Accessed 22 September 2019.

Brooke, Collin, and Allison Carr. “Concept 2 Writing Speaks to Situations through Recognizable Forms.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016. 62-64. Print.

Downs, Doug. “Concept 2 Writing Speaks to Situations through Recognizable Forms.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016. 66-67. Print.

Piratewriting101. Success What People Thinks It Looks Like. 2017. WordPress, Accessed 22 September 2019.

Ritchie, J. Edward. Congrats You Failed. 2018., Accessed 22 September 2019.

Vappingo. “7 Fabulous Memes That Prove Proofreading Isn’t Easy”. Vappingo.

Featured Image can be found here.


Melinda Grant
September 23, 2019 at 8:11 pm

I love your memes, Miro! This week’s lesson was refreshing because I have countless memories of writing over and over and over and yet, again, before coming up with a draft that I like. I never really thought about it before, but I can definitely see where failure leads to success with writing. I have been thinking about writing as comparison to learning to dance or draw…. The more we do it, the better it will become. Oh, how I wish I had heard of this concept while in high school; it would have made for less intense experiences and anguish.

I, too, think revision is key to developing writing skill. I had a coach once tell us that we would learn more from losing than winning. And, after losing, we would learn to understand the real gift in winning at the sport. I’m not saying a red pen or revision is losing by any means. But, if a graded essay is returned with no feedback, I sort-of feel as though I won. If it is returned covered in red ink, I feel as though I lost. However, going back to the drawing board, writing another revision, and maybe a few more revisions, will foster that beautiful moment when the paper develops into something I am proud of, eventually. I am willing to bet in that scenario, I have learned more about writing than I did from the original draft. It makes me realize that writing is a life-long journey.

Thanks for sharing!

September 24, 2019 at 6:24 pm

Man, if that “this is shit” meme isn’t the story of my life. I actually made myself a clean spot in my house when I started the pilot. I made coffee and set up a whole space. I then proceeded to fall asleep on my computer within writing two lines of dialogue. I then had to go through a process of trial and error to find where it worked for me to even *attempt* to get work done. I finally found a spot, and managed to get the work done. So, basically, I love failing. Failing has provided me with some great things, whether it’s better work, or just the hunger to continue the work

September 25, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Your multimodal components were very relatable. I think the biggest thing I struggle with in terms of my writing is not getting too discouraged early on in the writing process. It can be so frustrating when you sit down to write, you have this amazing story in your head that you can picture so clearly, then when you sit down to write it turns into a mess and you don’t know how to fix it. The only way we can actually write something worthy of reading is if we accept that this is a normal part of the writing process.

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