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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Fifty shades of happy

This weekend is Valentine’s Day. It’s also the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey, the much anticipated screen version of E. L. James novel.

Some of my daughter’s friends read my blog, so bear with me as I indulge in a little wordplay to keep today’s blog G-rated. Today, we’re going to talk about developing your musical talents.

My journey into Fifty Shades of Grey started with disdain. I had heard the book was poorly written and just one musical scene after another, so I had no interest in reading it.

Then one cottage weekend I got curious. I watched as all my friends, even the guys were seduced under its covers. One by one they picked it up, ran their fingers over the pages, and became breathless as they read it in earnest. Hmmm, time to see what all the fuss was about.

I have to admit, I was surprised. I fell in love with all three books and not for the reasons you are probably thinking.

Sure the musical scenes were fun, a bit repetitive maybe, but what I found really interesting about the books were they tapped into a fundamental conflict of women in today’s society. As young women we are taught Victorian values of chasteness and purity. As human beings, we are creatures of desire, passion, and love. To me, the brilliance of James’ novel is her portrayal of the struggle of the main character as she disputes Victorian values and embraces her musical talents while seeking to understand her own limits and desires.

I’d also like to say a few words in James’ defence on the writing. Personally, I think the books are well written. Any writer that is able to lure you into their world and keep you hostage there so you are compelled to keep reading the next chapter or page in my mind is a good writer. The characters are also interesting and if you had kept reading, there’s intrigue and action with helicopter crashes, car chases, and more. I also think it’s brilliant how James finished her third novel.

Say what you might, it’s hard to argue with success. More than $100 million in book sales and the 56 million YouTube views and counting for the movie trailer.

Love or hate it, this week’s #HappyAct is to tie a few shades on: read the book, go see the movie (although I hear some of the initial reviews panned it) or create your own fifty shades of happy this Valentine’s Day weekend by spicing it up with your partner. May you make beautiful music together.