Writing Better: Analyze your successes and failures

Apr 2, 2019 | Better Writing

Laurence Olivier was one of history’s great Shakespearian actors. Hamlet was one of his signature roles. On this night, he was giving one of his greatest performances ever.

When it was over, his friends rushed backstage to greet him and congratulate him. They were stunned to find Olivier sitting in a chair with tears streaming down his face, rhythmically slamming his fist into his thigh. For a moment, everyone was struck silent.

Then, one friend blurted out, “Larry, what’s wrong? That was one of the greatest performances of your life.”

Olivier barely looked up. “Yes,” he said, “but I don’t know why.”

Figuring Out Why is a Key to Becoming the Writer You can Be

We’ve all had a post or an article we thought would be one of the greatest we’ve ever done and watched it die. We’ve been surprised by a post we thought was just okay that everyone loved and that went viral. Pay attention to those surprises.

Consider the circumstances. Is there something different about the day or time your post was published? What was going on in the world that might have affected people’s responses?

Did you do anything differently? Sometimes, it’s easiest to understand that when you compare wildly successful posts or great disasters with regular posts. Other times, it pays to get all your good or bad surprises together and see what they have in common.

I did that a couple of years ago. I discovered that my best posts were the ones that had at least a week between the first draft and the publication. I’ve now worked that delay into my regular routine.

Make It So

To become the best writer you can be, figure out the why behind a great success or a surprise failure. That won’t do you any good, though, unless you make changes based on what you discover.

Sometimes, You Will Wind Up Like Sir Laurence

Many times, you’ll be able to determine why a post soared or flopped. Other times, you won’t.

Sometimes, you will wind up like Sir Laurence Olivier. You’ll have a great success, or a dismal failure, and you won’t be able to figure out why.

Bottom Line

Your surprise successes and failures hold the key to dramatic improvement. Figure out why an article or post was a surprise. Then turn your new understanding into a change in practice. When you can’t find the why, don’t worry too much, there are more successes and failures in your future.

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