When a pilot fails, people die. When a writer fails, what dies?

April 25, 2019

The airline industry is unique in that every failure is widely publicized. Every crash or malfunction of a plane is investigated. Outside of airplane crashes, we rarely investigate our failures. Not in medicine, not in teaching, not in the legal profession, not in the financial world, not in virtually any other kind of work where the mistakes do not turn up on cable news.” (From The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.)

With each investigation of an airplane crash or incident, the chance of a repeat failure goes down. We find out that a mechanical problem plagues the plane, or that a current process doesn’t work—then we fix it.

Why don’t we investigate our own failures as writers, designers, poets, etc.?

Like Atul Gawande said, the publicity is why airplane crashes get investigated. People die when a plane, pilot, or air traffic controller fails. When you and I write a shitty blog post or design a shitty poster, there’s not so much on the line.

That’s no excuse not to investigate your failures.

Try it: Write a draft of something and then put it away in a drawer or out of sight. Set yourself a reminder to look at it again in a few weeks. When you come back, investigate it thoroughly. You’ll find a brand new perspective on your work—and you’ll probably discover that it was shitty.

Then fix it.

And most importantly, don’t get discouraged that you failed. You’ll fail again, and again, and again. When you fail as a creative, other people don’t die—but if you never work to improve your craft, at one point you will die the same shitty writer you were when you started—you’ll die.

Don’t let that happen.