I first heard of failure as it relates to writing from my old writing teacher and mentor Will Hochman . And I don’t mean he failed me or told me I was a failure. No, he was tough on me but kind and nurtured his students from draft to draft. Never had composition with him but rather lit courses and creative writing–poetry and fiction. He gave me Richard Hugo and gave me Donald Hall. He saw something in me I did not see in myself at the time.
Later he got me a gig as a writing center tutor getting paid to work with writing–getting paid to work with students. This led to teaching community college courses, led to a career and an obsessive compulsive view of fiction and poetry. Will helped make the failed writer I am today. As much as Huerfano County and Pueblo County. I mean he helped me appreciate failure in writing. To appreciate the long, dificult process of writing. This is something I try to instill in my students. This is the kindness I always try to find for my students.
Here is a note from his website (stolen without permission–Sorry, Will):
Accept humanity’s flaws as what it means to be you. Sometimes how we write ourselves is all about the heuristic of failure.
In other words, writing is about empathy and humanity. And I recognize how dificult that is. Can I teach empathy in 16 weeks? I can surely lead the way–or try. I suppose you will need to ask my students about that because my students feel 16 weeks of a semester as too brief of a time to complete a significant change in literacy skill. They say I push too hard–like all students complaining. And I can only suggest it is enough time to craft at least 4 writing assignments. But mostly I try to instill the care for writing–the care for drafting. That same appreciation of learning from failure. From understanding what makes writing bad and what makes writing effective. To understand literary quality not as a critic but as a human–with empathy and hope. And that is not a failure.
But at the end of a term like here in school in the last week of classes we are talking quite a bit about revision and escaping from the failed document. To improve academic non-fictive spaces and I think of Will. I think of how I have become a mentor or someone who passes-on this idea of failure–a success in my view. The idea to see things where they can begin and not always where they are stopping off–to steal from Salinger. Oh, Will didn’t give me Salinger but he gave me more of Salinger.