This is a reprint of my 2010 post J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure that touches on her life before writing the Harry Potter series of books.

“A mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
J.K. Rowling
The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination
Harvard University Commencement
June 5, 2008

Scott W. Smith

“Everything I do I just assume I’m going to fail. All seems impossible but I’m very scared of failure –you know, everyone is –and that sence of the impossibility gets me to crank up the turbines. Everything mentally and physically at my disposal I pour into a project.”
Sebastian Junger (Author of The Perfect Storm, War, Tribe)
Outside mag Sept 2010
Article: The path of most resistance
Page 74

Junger is not only a best selling author, but co-director of the Academy Award-nominated Restrepo (2010) documentary.

Scott W. Smith

Enjoy the Process

I have had many, many failures and I’m a big fan of them…NBC a couple of years ago optioned one of my books and it was going to be a comedy where every week this writer did another wacky experiment and chaos ensued. And it was a total failure—it didn’t get picked up….There was one producer who I read a book of hers and she’s like ‘if you cannot enjoy the process then you’re screwed.’ Because the chances of the getting a movie actually made are so infinitesimal. So enjoy the process. Enjoy the walk up the mountain.”
New York Times best selling author A.J. Jacobs  (The Know It All)
Tim Ferriss podcast interview How to Turn Failure into Success

Jacobs can be heard on the podcast Twice Removed and found on Twitter @ajjacobs . To read more about his failed sitcom (and the pilot episode that cost almost $3 million to produce) read his Esquire article My Life as a Sitcom.

Related posts: “I never saw myself as a sitcom writer, but I was waiting tables…” (The journey that led Rob McElhenny to buying a couple of screenwriting books, a camera at Best Buy, to working with screenwriter Paul Schrader that took him into a deep forest when it failed, on the way to creating the long running Tv show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. )
Susannah Grant on Failure
Aaron Sorkin on Failure

Scott W. Smith


100 percent of the screenwriters who now have agents at one time didn’t have an agent.

100 percent of screenwriters who are now working at one time weren’t working.

100 percent of the screenwriters who have made money at screenwriting at one time time didn’t made a dime.”
Michael Hauge
Writing Screenplays that Sells
page 213

“If there are two writers, one living in Toronto obsessively focused on quality and craft, and another in Hollywood, looking to make contacts — my money’s on the out of town writer all the way.”
Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean)
I Love LA
Wordplayer Screenwriting Column 33
(Also used in my 2009 post Screenwriting Quote #15)

Back in June Deadline Hollywood reported that Anne Hathaway is set to star in the contained thriller O2. Christie Leblanc —a single mother from Gatineau, Canada— wrote the script and sent it unsolicited to Echo Lake’s Adam Riback and James Engle who helped developed the script that is planned to go into production this fall.

I finished O2 in June 2016, but I’m extremely obsessive. I spent a month researching reps, making a list of the ones who had set up similar projects, tracking down their contact information, and finding out everything I could about them. I then embarked on my query campaign, targeting the ones I most wanted to work with. Echo Lake responded with a read request, and I sent my baby out…I write killer loglines, and I knew I had a good concept, so I knew I’d get some reads. I was, however, very surprised when they followed up with a meeting request. I don’t think I ever sweat so much in my entire life. Remarkably, I have yet to step foot in L.A.”
Christie LeBlanc
Interview with Jean-Francois Allaire

She writes The Single Screenwriter blog and can be found on Twitter @thatScriptChick. No one said it was easy, but Christie shows it can be done—and even at least started without stepping foot in Los Angeles. And even as a single mother living just north of Ottawa. 

Screenwriting from Gatineau. Congrats Christie.

Scott W. Smith

“In Greek nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”
Don Draper (Jon Hamm)

The perfect bookend to what I called The Perfect ‘Mad Men’ Monologue in my last post is Don Draper (Jon Hamm) giving his pitch to executive from the Eastman Kodak company in the first season of Mad Men, episode 13 titled The Wheel.

Technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.

My first job— I was in house at a fur company with this old pro copywriter–Greek– named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is ‘new.’ Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product—nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.

Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a space ship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. Takes us to a place where we ache to go again. 

It’s not called ‘The Wheel.’ It’s called ‘The Carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.”
Don Draper

Robin Veith and the show’s creator Matthew Weiner wrote that episode, which received an Emmy nomination.

P.S. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has under Nostalgia:
Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.[1]The word nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Described as a medical condition—a form of melancholy—in the Early Modern period, it became an important trope in Romanticism.

Related posts:
Power Your Podcast with Storytelling “Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”—
Alex Blumberg
Screenwriting Quote  #82 (Richard Krevolin) “All characters are wounded souls…”
Write What Hurts  

Scott W. Smith

Way back when I studied acting it was years before the Internet came along. So you’d hang out at the Samuel French bookstore on Sunset Blvd. flipping through plays searching for a monolgue that you hadn’t seen 100 times. (“I coulda been somebody…) There were also a few books that had collections of monologues.

I remember doing monologues by Clifford Odets, Michael Weller, Sam Shepard, and Tennessee Williams. (“I have tricks up my sleeves….”)

One of my best acting scenes ever was to an audience of one. It was monologue I gave to a film school friend named Fred at a restaurant in Hollywood.  I’d been working on it in a for a class and decided to see if I could pass it off to him as a first person experience. Success, even on a very small scale, is satisfying.

Actors love monologues. And I heard one over the weekend that’s one of the best I’ve heard in years. As I inch my way through finally completing the Mad Men series I watched a monologue over the weekend that’s gold. It’s at the end of In Care Of —season 6, episode 12 on Netflix.)

It’s as advertising executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) pitches two executives of the Hershey Company.

“Every agency you’re going to meet with feels qualified to advertise the Hershey bar because the product itself is one of the most successful billboards of all time. And its relationship with America is so overwhelmingly positive. Everyone in this room has their story to tell. It could be rations in the heat of battle, or in the movie theater on a first date. But most of them are from childhood. Mine was my father taking me to the drug store after I’d mowed the lawn and telling me I could have anything I wanted. There was a lot and I picked a Hershey Bar. The wrapper looked like what was inside. And as I ripped it open my father tasseled my hair and forever his love and chocolate were forever tied together. That’s the story we’re going to tell. Hershey’s is the currency of affection. It’s the childhood symbol of love.…I’m sorry, I have to say this because I don’t know if I’m going to see you again. (Beat.) I was an orphan. I grew up in Pennsylvania…in a whorehouse. I read about Milton Hershey and his school in Coronet magazine or some other crap that girls left by the toilet. And I read that some orphans have a different life there. I could picture it. I dreamt of it—of being wanted. Because the woman that raised me looked at me everyday like she hoped I’d disappear. Closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her Johns’ pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar she bought me a Hershey Bar. And I would eat it alone I in my room with great ceremony. Feeling like a normal kid. It said sweet on the package. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”
Don Draper

If you want to write actor bait study that monologue and actor Jon Hamm performing those words. An emotional scene that doesn’t just stand on its own and fit within the episode, but one that’s integral to the entire Man Men series.

That episode was written my Carly Wray and and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

I couldn’t find an HD version of the Hershey scene online but if you want to see how the scene played out on the show, here it is:

P.S. After I saw the Hershey episode, I bought a Hershey Bar—for maybe the first time in over a decade. (The power of television and advertising.) On the wrapper was a mention of the Milton Hershey School that Don Draper referenced.

On the Hershey Company website it says of Milton and his wife Catherine that, “Although the Hersheys never had children, they established a boarding school for orphan boys and came to think of the boys as their family. The Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys, today called the Milton Hershey School, now educates nearly 2,000 underprivileged boys and girls. The unique school continues to consider each student and staff part of the family. Before his death in 1945, Hershey transferred the bulk of his considerable wealth to the Milton Hershey School Trust to ensure the school’s continued success.”

Related posts:
Mad Men (and Women) Writers
More Mad Women
My ‘Mad Men’ Father 

Mad Men Diet & Workout

Scott W. Smith

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