Epic fails and lessons in writing from the school of hard knocks

Mark Zuckerberg

This week, on the 14th anniversary of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg shared a posted about his failures. He wrote, “Over the years I’ve made almost every mistake you can imagine. I’ve made dozens of technical errors and bad deals. I’ve trusted the wrong people and I’ve put talented people in the wrong roles. I’ve missed important trends and I’ve been slow to others. I’ve launched product after product that failed.”

There are many days when I feel like an epic failure as a writer (or mother, or wife for that matter). The other day I read something I wrote a year ago. It was crap.

Writing for someone else’s voice is probably one of the hardest things for a writer to do. I need to do this a lot in my work. Here are some of my epic failures in writing over the course of my career.

  • Assuming someone’s spoken voice is the same as their written voice. I worked with one leader who was personable, funny and engaging in person, but whose written prose was formal and stilted.
  • Creating a narrative that wasn’t the narrative of the person giving the presentation. I prepared a presentation once for a leader and weaved a theme through it that I thought would resonate with the audience, using references to popular culture. It fell flat because it was my narrative, not their narrative.
  • Not using enough stories in my writing and not digging harder to find stories. Everyone has a story.
  • Slipping into corporate puffery. If something I’ve written sounds like a company wrote it, not a person, I’ve failed at my job, and I have.
  • Being too wordy.
  • Not being able to convince people to use clear language; people will often default to language they are used to or think others want to hear.

Yes, I have failed miserably time and time again. But there is one thing that makes me happy. I’m in good company.

 

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4 thoughts on “Epic fails and lessons in writing from the school of hard knocks

  1. It’s ok to fail, at least you tried, and failure is how we learn. If we never take chances then we lose the opportunity to create something new or innovative.

  2. I think you’re a little hard on yourself Laurie. Failure is such a harsh word. I prefer growth opportunity. Each opportunity is normal and necessary to be a better writer.

    1. Thanks to you guys for the supportive comments. I’m OK with failing as a writer, because I agree it is important to fail to learn. And there are things I’ve written I’m very proud of. The one revelation I’ve had about writing is the further away you are from the material, the easier it is to fail. My biggest failures have been when I’ve had to write for other people. So let’s all keep putting our stuff out there, and failing together gang!

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