I know that the “fail fast” mantra of the tech world is not universally accepted, but I’ve heard it repeated frequently enough to wonder at its wisdom. In the world of Silicon Valley start-ups, a fast failure yields lessons learned, some takeaway that will leave the entrepreneur better positioned to monetize his or her next idea. But here on planet publishing (an alternate and occasionally dystopian reality peopled with fewer angel investors) I think “succeed slowly” makes more sense. Publishing is a long game–a marathon not a sprint–and good books take time. A work in progress can pass through several unsuccessful iterations before it sells, and the learning curve (though painful) is an essential part of the process. Writing is one of the few fields in which the totality of a practitioner’s lived experience counts as on-the-job training. I’ve seen writers whose first (several) attempts at authorhood flopped go on to become “overnight successes.”
Hemingway’s iceberg theory of writing—the notion that a writer should omit details in order to allow the reader to fully apprehend the whole—could just as easily be applied to the process of becoming a writer. Most of the time, every visible published work floats atop a submerged mountain of failures, false-starts, and otherwise discarded manuscript pages sturdy enough to down a Titanic.
I’m no Luddite, but I’m skeptical of the fail fast preachers and their proselytes. Of course, the book business has little in common with the tech industry—no snack filled break rooms, no on-site dry cleaning , no IPOS. As far as I can tell, conversations via emoji are still rare (and I dispute the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, because really, can a winking smiley moon face ever be le mot juste?) but here I’d say that’s just as well.
What do you think—can/should writers fail fast?