John McNally, The Promise Of Failure

John McNally, The Promise Of Failure [Book Review]

Why write? Especially when, in most cases, the writer faces rejection of one sort or another. This is the question John McNally raises in The Promise of Failure: One Writer’s Perspective on Not Succeeding (University of Iowa Press, 2018). Although McNally is addressing writers and would-be writers (of whom I am decidedly not one), his thoughts on failure can sometimes be generalized.

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John McNally, The Promise Of Failure

The Promise of Failure: One Writer's Perspective on Not Succeeding by John McNally

So, again, why write? “If no one out there cares if you put down your pen right now and never pick it up again, why keep doing this thing that you’re doing?” One reason is that “it’s the only thing [you’re] even remotely good at.”

So you keep writing and “putting [your] work out there,” even though you “ultimately have no control over whether something gets published or doesn’t…. It’s like letting go of a helium-filled balloon and hoping it touches an airplane. Once you let go of the string, it’s no longer in your control.” What a wonderful image for the disjunction between process and outcome. Once you hit the buy or sell button…. No, I don’t want to mash McNally’s language by forcing an analogy.

When, in the face of failure, should you just pack it in and quit doing what you’re doing? McNally says that he has “always been of the belief that as long as you’re not hurting anyone, it’s foolish not to pursue the thing you want to pursue, even if you pursue it badly.” Here it’s more difficult to analogize to trading. The writer piles up rejection slips; the trader piles up losses. Losses may not be psychologically more difficult to handle than rejection slips, but they do have a way of eroding any semblance of well-being. The losing trader either has to find some way to be profitable (and many highly successful traders have clawed their way back from nothingness) or should find something else to pursue.

But if you’re going to pursue trading, here’s McNally’s advice (and in this case it’s easy to analogize): “I measure my goals not by a typed page, not by a paragraph, not by a sentence. But by a word. One word. Because I know well enough now that one word will lead me to the next word and that this is how you get to where you’re going.”

Article by Brenda Jubin, Reading The Markets

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