Writing Lessons From Groundhog Day

Well hey there.

Who’s ready for some tough talk about how setting yourself up for failure can be one of the most helpful approaches to writing?

Yes! Failure! One of the most useful experiences an artist can ever have.

We talk about fear of failure a lot at WHQ, and why you have to feel the fear and write anyway. But today is all about learning from failure. Whether it’s getting a story rejected or wanting to give up on a project, or procrastinating so hard you never actually get anything done, or simply feeling totally burnt out by the whole writing thang.

Dudes. We feel you. But that repetition: try, fail, try again, fail again, try harder, fail harder, and on and on until the end of time – that’s what eventually gets you to where you wanna be. The ones who give up never make it, do they?

So here’s today’s lesson:

Watch Groundhog Day. 

“Er, whhhhy?” you may ask.

Well, here’s why – an excellent observation on the usefulness of failure by Austin Kleon:

“In Groundhog Day, for those of you who don’t know or have forgotten, Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is a weatherman who wakes up every morning on Groundhog Day — February 2nd — in Punxsutwaney, Pennsylvania. […] Phil Connors hates Punxsutwaney, and no matter what he does, he can’t make it out of Punxsutwaney, and he can’t seem to get to February 3rd. Every morning he wakes up in the same bed at 6AM to face the same day.”

Sound familiar? Like, every time you sit down to do some writing? Sometimes it really does feel like you’re rehashing the same thing over and over again. Sometimes you feel like you’re getting absolutely nowhere. This is normal. Let us learn from Groundhog Day and see what we can do about it.

Gif of Bill Murray reporting the news in Groundhog Day saying "Well, it's Groundhog Day... again."

Over the course of what some deep-internet nerds have determined was 33 years and 350 days, Phil learns some important lessons.

  • He learns he cannot cheat his way out.
  • He learns he cannot trick someone into falling in love with him.
  • He learns he can’t change things that are destined to happen.

The same is true with writing:

  • There’s no cheating when it comes to writing. You have to actually, y’know, do the work. Sorryyyyyy.
  • There’s no point pretending to be someone you’re not in order to capitalise on ‘trends’ in the literary world. Write what you love, writing what you’re good at, and the readers who matter will love it too.
  • There’s no rushing things. We’re not so hot on the concept of destiny, but we do believe that there’s a time and place for every piece of writing. Maybe now is not your time. Maybe you just need a little more patience…
Gif from Groundhog Day. An alarm clock ticks over from 5.59 to 6.00am and Bill Murray smashes it with his fist.

Okay, back to Punxatawney:

“Finally, Phil accepts his fate. He accepts that he’s stuck in Punxatawney forever. And then things get really interesting.

He gets to know everybody in the town. He sees what problems there are in the town to solve, and how he can use his powers to help: he catches a kid falling out of a tree, he helps an engaged couple through their misgivings about getting married, he replaces a flat tire for some old ladies.

He also throws himself into his work: he crafts a super eloquent speech. […] He learns French. He learns how to play the piano. He learns how to sculpt ice.

And it’s when he finally masters these things, when he’s turned himself into a person worth loving, it’s then that Rita notices him, and they live happily ever after.

Phil learns, as Hugh Macleod says in his book Ignore Everybody, ‘The best way to get approval is to not need it.’

Gahhhhhh such a good film. And look at all these damn life/writing lessons!

  • Get to know your writing, your strengths and your weaknesses – only then will you see what problems need fixing.
  • Help other writers – critiquing is such a good way to improve your own writing (our community writing forum is the perfect place for this).
  • Throw yourself into your work – commit to it and write to the best of your abilities.
  • Let go of the need for approval or recognition – if you’re writing for someone else then your writing will never be true to youuuuu.
  • And, possibly most importantly, we learn best by failing, over and over again…

Y’see what we’re getting at here?

Embrace the failure. Invite it in for a hot chocolate. Watch Groundhog Day together. Then start afresh tomorrow.

Enjoy the film.

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