Anthony Doerr and Artistic Failure
The Portland-based nonprofit Literary Arts invited author Anthony Doerr to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on November 19th. Pacific University’s MFA in Writing and Silk Road Review had the lucky privilege of supporting this event, and showcasing our magazine in the lobby.
Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, fully understands that during the writing process, failure is every bit as important as success. His hour-long presentation included several examples of his personal experiences with failure—experiences that ranged from childhood Halloween costume mishaps to entire deletion and rewriting of formerly treasured passages. His message was simple, yet elegant: failure—as long as it is purposeful in its nature—is just as formative, rewarding, and essential as accomplishment; it is crucial in facilitating progress, much as a torn muscle fiber is instrumental in creating a stronger bond.
If Anthony Doerr taught us anything that years of writing through frustration and desperation hasn’t, it was that the best way to find success is to throw oneself after it, no matter the risk of embarrassment. It was that dedication to the concept of completion, that perseverance in the face of the knowledge that—try as we might—we will never be finished writing, and that’s what makes it so great. Revision is an ongoing process, with an indefinite number of stages and no end in sight. Write, develop, revise, develop some more, revise some more, and repeat as necessary—this is the cycle with which most writers are heavily experienced, and we are no exception. We cannot thank Anthony Doerr enough for reaffirming that this process, futile as it may appear, is completely normal and ultimately productive.
We would also like to thank Anthony Doerr for his riveting, insightful, and—most of all—humorous testament to the struggle all writers face on a daily basis. Components such as accuracy down to the tiniest details—was it raining on November 23rd, 1946, and department stores have fire alarms yet?—transference of our innermost thoughts to the page, and ultimate satisfaction are all aspects of writing that we have grown to abhor every bit as much as we love. Doerr made a point to mention that he, a critically-acclaimed writer, still finds himself dissatisfied with his end product, simply because it can’t be as perfect on the page as it is in his head. Language is a beautiful thing, but it has its restrictions; by this logic, the potential for perfection is out of the equation, and the pressure of writing is subsequently diminished.
It’s always a relief when someone comes along to validate and assuage our deep-seated insecurities. In addition to delivering an incredible presentation in which he portrayed himself as down-to-earth, experienced, and accessible, Doerr created a connection with every writer in the sold-out concert hall by addressing these common problems with writing. To hear him struggling with the same things that plague us as undergrad students was perhaps the most inspirational message of the evening, and it couldn’t have come at a better point in time.