This blog was originally published November 27, 2017, on my Only for the Brave blog, which is being eliminated as I decided to merge the two blogs. Because failure is an important part of succeeding for writers, I felt it was worthwhile reprinting the series about failure here.
So many times, I’ve witnessed students and new writers exclaim that successful writers never failed.
That’s when I would share this list of successful people who failed early in their careers.
When I shared this list with my students, immediately I had their attention. I knew what they were thinking: well, if that person could fail and still be successful, then there’s hope for me!
Everyone, absolutely everyone, unless they are a savant, start their craft as a beginner and will encounter failures.
Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few, and more often than not they will experience failure somewhere else in their career. Or they’ll stop with that one huge successful book fearing failure if they continue. Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind, was one such person. Truman Capote, of In Cold Blood, was yet another.
Here’s a list of successful people who failed:
- Dr. Seuss was rejected 23 times.
- Michael Jordon was cut from high school basketball.
- Henry Ford went broke 5 times.
- Helen Keller graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, became a famous author & lecturer.
- Albert Einstein was rejected by the University of Bern on his Ph.D. dissertation saying it was irrelevant and fanciful. (And if not for his wife who typed the papers and submitted them, he never would have been published.)
- Richer Hooker worked 7 years on M*A*S*H and was rejected by 21 publishers.
- Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times.
- Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lack of ideas.
- Beethoven’s violin teacher declared him hopeless as a composer.
- IBM, GE, RCA all rejected the Xerox machine.
- Parker Brothers turned down Trivia Pursuit.
- Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier, Shirley Temple, and Laurence Olivier all failed their screen tests.
- Fred Astaire was cited in a memo by MGM executive after his first screen tests in 1933 that he “can’t act, slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
- John Grisham’s book, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers.
- William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies, was rejected 21 times.
- Pearl Buck’s book, The Good Earth, was rejected 14 times.
- George B. Shaw’s first five novels were rejected.
- Mary Higgins Clark’s first short story was rejected 40 times.
- Louis L’Armour’s first story was rejected 350 times.
- Stephen King was rejected 41 times before his first manuscript was accepted.
Doesn’t this list give you hope? Sure did me!
Bottom line: The only ones who really fail are those who give up!