by Alton Gansky
I confess to being a documentary addict. Science documentaries, biographies, or histories, I enjoy them all. Such programs are educational but also entertaining. Their production values are as high as any feature film and probably better for the mind. (Don't get me wrong, I love movies too.) A couple of weeks ago I came across a six hour series called "The Men Who Built America." It debuted in late 2012 and features dramatizations and commentary about five men who changed America by the businesses they built: Cornelius Vanderbelt, John D. Rockerfeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. The series--one of the best I've seen--focused predominately on the first four and portrays their drive, their success, their greed, and their failures.
Technically, it may seem their businesses were so unique that they would have little to do with each other. Vanderbelt was a railroad man, Rockerfeller made his millions through oil refining, Carnegie changed the world through steel manufacturing, and Morgan was a banker. Turns out, they were in constant conflict, with each trying to best the other. They did lock arms in order to buy the presidency for William McKinley but when back to their lone-wolf ways once the election was over.
The writers and producers of "The Men Who Built America" inter-cut the story with comments by today's billionaires and historians. One comment that surfaced frequently was the willingness of the world's richest men to accept the possibility of failure. They had some failure and many setbacks. The key, according to the historians and billionaire entrepreneurs, was the willingness to try and tolerate failures. It was part of the process. Failure to them did not make them failures; failure was a means of discovery--an acceptable learning experience. This is not to say that they did cartwheels when a failure came along and cost them a few hundred million. They were determined, not crazy. What set these men apart was their willingness to put aside the failure and start at the challenge from a new direction.
Writers face more than their fair share of failure. No matter how successful a writer is, failure is just around the corner. Often it is the failure to place a piece of writing the author was certain would be published. Sometimes it's a change in the publisher and the writer becomes collateral damage. A career may take off and five years later wither on the vine. A career might take a decade to launch. And of course, there are those great successes that make the rest of us feel like chumps.
Vanderbelt, Rockerfeller, Carnegie, Morgan did not believe they were infailable, just unstoppable. Sooner or later, they would make good, their idea would come to be. It might take several unexpected turns and they might have to climb several mountains to make it happen, but they were willing to do that. So should we be.
As writers we must keep our eye on the prize (and keep an eye out for other prizes), take our lumps, learn from rejection, and try again.
Perhaps the problem comes from the unrealistic belief that everything we do will be loved by all. Doubtful.
In baseball, a player who hits .300 is considered amazing, a real talent. However, hitting .300 means the batter failed to make it to base 70% of the time. The player can't focus on the 7 out of 10 times he failed at his goal of getting a hit, he must believe that his next at bat will be successful . As writers, we must do the same.
Remember Al's Axiom #1: No one ever hit a homerun from the dugout. I remind myself of that often. I have to. Learn from rejection and failure, then walk out of the dugout like your next at-bat is going to sail out of the park. Most success comes from consistent effort and a refusal to let failure roost in our hearts.
Now, take your at-bats.
I highly recommend "Men Who Built America." Click cover to see full description at Amazon.com: