Whoops! How to deal with failure.

Soooooo….yeah I didn’t post yesterday. I guess that’s what happens when you play League of Legends and three hours flies by. Now I could beat myself up over it, but what good would that do? Everybody deals with failure in one way or another, but feeling sorry for yourself or endlessly rehashing what might have been doesn’t get you anywhere. Failure is on of life’s less popular methods for teaching us about ourselves and how the world works. It shows us our mistakes and provides incentive to become better. No one wants to be a failure.

When I think about failure I consider it an inevitable fact that is intertwined with the process of learning. Failing causes reevaluation and study which strengthens out understanding. The fear of failure will shackle you into staying in one place and never doing anything new. One example of this is in education today. In American schools failure is something to be afraid of. You either pass the class or fail it. So getting a passing letter grade becomes more important than actually learning anything. This is the reason you have many introductory classes in college on material which should have been fully learned in high school.

So failure isn’t something to get to excited about. Learn from what you did wrong and resolve to not do it again. Worrying and looking backwards isn’t going to stop you from making mistakes so why not make them and move on? As Winston Churchill, who was an amazing orator and new a thing or two about life, said two things which are great reminders on how to think about failure.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

And as for me I will be moving on from my failure at posting yesterday carrying a valuable lesson: If writing (or anything else) is something you want to make a priority, then don’t make any excuses when doing it or let anything else get in the way.

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Brainstorm!!

Sorry for the long absence. I’ve been struggling with what to write as of late, and have been experimenting with different methods to come up with ides. And then it struck me: write about those different methods! So I’m back after a break, hopefully with many new and varied posts! Enjoy.

Brainstorming. Free-writing. Spontaneous idea generation. Removing the brain-to-hand filter.

Call it what you will, but the process of getting ideas out of your head and into action is an important step for anyone. Whether your ideas are small and ordinary or grand and sweeping, the first step is to get them out of your head. When you write something down, or create a computer model, or draw a diagram it becomes real. It leaves the abstract and mysterious regions of thought and takes shape in reality, growing with each stroke of the pen or click of a mouse. For writers this is especially important because when you can’t think of anything to write about you are stuck.

Here are a few of the ways I’ve tried, or want to try to come up with new ideas for my writing:

  • Free-writing: Just writing down whatever comes to mind, whether it makes sense or not. This method is best done without stopping or correcting for grammar. I find that free-writing on the computer is harder, because it often points out misspellings and grammatical errors. This can prompt you to stop and correct your writing, which interrupts the flow of your thoughts. This method clears your mind of excess and distracting thoughts and can even give shape to thoughts that may be floating around in your brain awaiting the form and substance provided by the written word.
  • Mind Mapping: This method is like free-writing, except that as you come up with each new idea, draw a bubble around it. As you find similarities or relationships between the ideas (perhaps things you want to explore later), draw a line between the two bubbles and write the nature of the relationship on the line. A great tutorial on mind mapping can be found here and here.
  • Word Association: Look up a word in the dictionary, or pick one randomly out of a book. Perhaps use a word that you recently learned. Once you have the word, write down everything it makes you think about when you hear it. Write down as many things as you can think of. Once you are finished, look through your list and try and determine the connections. Why does a certain word bring up those connotations? Does it have meaning, or is it simply a product of your experiences and unique perspective?
  • Responses: Try writing a response to an article you’ve read, or a piece of trivia that you just learned. Often times this can get your mind working in new directions and can lead to bigger and better things.

However you choose to do it, brainstorming is an excellent way of generating new ideas and continuing to be creative even if you are “stuck”. Besides it can be fun to let loose and let your imagination soar for a while. Even if the idea seems ridiculous and you think it could never work, who knows what great things could come of it? But by far the most important thing to take out of this is: keep writing. No matter what.

The Commonplace Book

Many people keep a journal, filling it with musings, memories, and thoughts about their lives and loves. But how many people transcribe interesting quotes? How many write down song lyrics, herbal remedies, or just interesting trivia that they learn? Just recently I have come a across an interesting idea: the commonplace book. A commonplace book is basically a repository of information that otherwise would have no ordered place. It differs from a journal in that it is not necessarily in chronological or topical order, but rather it is created as interesting things are discovered.

Such great thinkers as John Milton, Emerson, and Thoreau kept commonplace books, writing down anecdotes, quotes, and passages from the classics for further perusal. Some of the great learned men of ancient times considered it a must to collect such things. Consider Erasmus, who said: “Anyone who wants to read through all types of authors (for once in a lifetime all literature must be read by anyone who wishes to be considered learned) will collect as many quotations as possible for himself.”

Now there are many contemporary analogies to the commonplace book. From Tumblr and Facebook to Evernote and blogging, there are ways to collect information and record it for future use. But there is something about the act of writing it down with a pen that appeals to me still. Even with the convenience of technology, some things seem meant to be done by hand. That is why I am going to start keeping a commonplace book of my own.

My book will perhaps be integrated with my journal, forming a kind of hybrid book. Currently I have a ton of clippings in Evernote and a number of bookmarked web pages just waiting to be transcribed into my new book. With the internet at our fingertips, the amount of knowledge we have access to is astounding. In this day and age, no one has any excuse for ignorance.

Let me know in the comments whether you have heard of commonplace books before, and your thought on the whole idea!