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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Famous failures to cheer you up!

I’m optimistic by nature. However, when I do get down, I can throw a world-class pity party. Yesterday, was one of those days for me.  I called one of my best friends and waxed, or perhaps whined, poetically on all the reasons I felt like giving up on my dream. She listened patiently, told me I was wonderful, and then accompanied me to wine club where I spent several hours eating delicious, calorie packed finger foods and drinking red wine. I felt like I should have been over my pity party, but I wasn’t. The pity lingered like bad perfume. On the way home, I called my mother who told me to check my e-mail when I got home.

Leave it to my mother to get right to the heart of the matter. She sent me excerpts from a book about famous failures and highlighted this quote:

“Failure might just be the greatest thing that can possibly happen to you. It tests your determination, forces you to reassess your goals, and makes you stronger, more passionate, and more committed.” Joey Green

I don’t know why but reading how other people, people who went on to make it big, failed, made me feel better. I don’t know if that makes me twisted or perhaps it goes back to the saying that misery loves company. Whichever it is, or even if it’s neither, I wanted to share some of what I read-just in case there is someone out there today trying to succeed but wondering if they really have what it takes.

A Few Famous Failures

Richard Hooker’s novel MASH was rejected by twenty-one publishing houses. William Morrow published MASH in 1968. The book was made into a movie by Robert Altman and into a bestseller that spawned the long-running television comedy series.

Frank Herbert’s first novel, Dune, was rejected by thirteen publishing houses. Dune was finally published by Chilton in 1965 and went on to sell more than ten million copies and win the Hugo and Nebula awards. This book is considered a science fiction classic.

James Joyce had his first book, a collection of short stores called Dubliners, rejected by twenty-two publishing houses. It was finally published in 1914 and Joyce was hailed as a genius for his use of stream of consciousness. He also wrote A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake – all critically acclaimed novels.

Robert Sterling’s first forty freelance scripts for radio dramas were all rejected. Mr. Sterling became one of televisions most successful writers. He created and hosted the shows The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery and wrote the screenplays for Requiem for A Heavyweight and Planet of the Apes.

Patrick Dennis’s novel Auntie Mame was rejected by seventeen publishing houses. Vaguard published the book in 1955. It was a runaway bestseller, selling more than two million copies and was adapted into a Broadway show.

Sinclair Lewis said of his first five novels: “I lacked sense enough to see that, after five failures, I was foolish to continue writing.” He went on to write the American classics Main Street, Elmer Gantry, The Man Who Knew Coolidge, and Dodsworth. Lewis became the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I know I feel better - hope you do too!

"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Friedrich Nietzsche

I'd love to hear any famous stories you might know.

Have a great day!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem


  1. This isn't a literary reference, obviously, but wasn't Barbara Streisand told to get a nose job? Just goes to show the people doing the rejecting don't always know best.

    Keep pursuing your dream, Julie. It would be a loss to all your future fans if you quit now, me included.

  2. OMG -- this has totally perked me up today!! Thank you!!

  3. It isn't so much 'misery loves company' for me, as it is 'the miserable go on to do great things.' Inspiring post, and so helpful when we are shaking our heads and wondering what the heck we are doing.
    And if you give up on your dreams, I will personally come to your door and shake a very stern finger at you :)

  4. Thanks for posting this, Julie. The only famous example I can think of off the top of my head is Mark Twain. He became a publisher because he couldn't find anyone to publish his books.

  5. Ugh I've had a few of those days Julie, you are not alone. But here's the thing I'll write even if I never publish because I love it. There's a single quote I've learned to live by and not just in my writing. "Obstacles are placed in our path to determine whether we really wanted something or just thought we did." Dr. Harold Smith.

    Btw here's another little tidbit for you: Margaret Mitchell got rejection letters from 38 different publishers before finally finding one to publish her novel, Gone With The Wind.

    Now keep your chin up and go write something. =)

  6. A film executive, watching Fred Astaire's screen test said, "Can't sing. Can't act. Can dance a little."

  7. This is great -- I love hearing about people who kept going in the face of "failure". I was reading about famous chef Thomas Keller recently, and he failed spectacularly -- getting fired, having restaurants close. Yet he was willing to learn and improve. I think that's the part we need to remember.

    Also, the examples you gave above all seem to be "before their time" -- they were trying something "fresh" and it took the rest of the world a little longer to catch up. That's what life is like for us visionaries I guess. :)


  8. Illustrious company. ;-) Thanks for posting, Julie.

  9. I'm so glad to hear some of these other great stories! I read the Fred Astaire one in the excerpts my mom sent me, but I decided to dedicate the failure to writers exclusive. As an avid Fred Astaire fan reading about what the film executive said makes me laugh. He was not a visionary as one of you said. Thanks for stoping by everyone.

  10. Great post Julie! I think every writer throws a pity party now & then, so absolutely related with you here. :)

    Remember, even JK Rowling got rejected.

    Can you imagine what the rejectors felt like in the aftermath?

    Keep writing!


  11. Oh, and here's another successful figure (not a writer)... Michael Jordan! When he played college ball, his critics said he couldn't shoot the ball and had no defense. Um, is there anything else to basketball? Well, he showed his critics. Instead of quitting in the face of their negativity, he made both of these things his strengths.

  12. Fantastic post, Julie! There are so many stories like this. My favorite is the famous acting instructor sending a letter to a young girl's mother, telling her she was wasting her money sending her daughter to acting school. That young girl was Lucille Ball...not such a waste of money after all, huh? LOL!

  13. Samantha and Jerrica,

    Love, love, love the last two examples. Putting them in my vault.

  14. Loved the blog, Julie! Beauty is not the only thing that is in the eye of the beholder, is it?

  15. I almost forgot, if you like these sort of stories, you can read the neat little book Famous Failures by Joey Greene.


  16. I was going to say JKm too, but someone beat me to the punch ;-)

  17. The first Harry Potter story was rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury bought it, and look how huge that turned out.

  18. "Iron is strengthened in the fire" - at least, I think it was iron. Could have been copper... ;-)

    I try to keep this in mind, along with "if you fail, fail forward" but I have to agree with you, sometimes a good ole fashioned pity party (complete with wine & whine!) is the only way to go.

    Failing is hard. I had a banner year last year - I lost and lost and lost, and not just business, personally too. It was hard, agonizing and when I thought I couldn't take it, I lost something else I cherished.

    But, we do arrive stronger and I know I'm positive enough and optimistic enough to make it through. That's how God made me. Stubborn. Erm - I meant Resiliant. yes,that's it. ;-)