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“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

How inventor par excellence Thomas Edison can inform your creative work.

Thomas Edison, inventor of  the commercially practical incandescent lightbulb (among other things) and natty dresser.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb (among other things) and natty dresser.

What can we, as writers, photographers, artists, and bloggers learn from American inventor Thomas Alva Edison? Plenty, as it turns out. Edison is famous for many inventions, including the phonograph, a commercially viable lightbulb, and the motion picture camera.

His success resulted from trial and error, and many, many failed experiments before creating a lightbulb that could last 1200 hours, just as an example. He could have stopped. He could have given up. He chose to frame his work in a positive light:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Edison’s philosophy is particularly compelling to anyone who does creative work:

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.

How many rough drafts, spoiled drawings, and blurry photos have you created before that stroke of serendipity? Are you looking at a failure, or an important stepping stone toward a masterpiece?

If you’re waiting for inspiration, you might be left waiting, giving up time that could be better spent creating. Get writing, get your watercolors out, pop your camera in your pocket and do a photowalk in your neighborhood. If you focus on being consistent with process, inspiration will find you, and what you produce will show it.

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  1. I love this attitude – get the process right and the rest will follow with a bit of luck. The idea that inspiration simply strikes out of the blue is (usually) nonsense, much better to work hard and enjoy the process and if gods results are going to come, they’ll come.

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      1. Good point, because had Edison had his way we would all be operating under the inefficiency direct current to power our appliances. Obviously, divine intervention was at work.

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  2. Keeps you on your feet. Great attitude to live by. Also, instead of making your own failures, you can learn to avoid many them from reading other peoples mistakes and how they overcame them. Just a thought =D

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  3. Edison is a very strange example for any writer. He employed a great many other people and wasn’t ashamed to take credit for their work. His patents were the culmination of a collective effort. His successes have little or nothing in common with the more solitary and individual efforts of a writer.

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    1. I’m not deeply familiar with Edison’s work methods. I agree the act of writing itself is solitary, though the final product is the result of a series of people. Writers often rely on one or more trusted readers for critical feedback, editors help shape work, and copyeditors and proofreaders ensure that the final product is error-free. In the end the writer takes the credit for the published book, article, etc., though most published work is a team effort to some degree.

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  4. waiting for inspiration is just some people’s way of staying idle and being lazy, its cool if we just start doing something, anything we love. Because it our thing we’ll definitely get better and best at it.

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  5. Great post. I agree that we can’t base all of our work solely on excitement. If we can sustain through the less than inspiring moments then it’s real. If we rely only on flashes of lightning we’ll be waiting every day doing nothing until the storm roles in. Thanks for sharing and giving an added boost to the process.

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  6. I like it. Motivational. Also with every try you learn something that could get you closer to that lightning strike that maybe wouldn’t come if you didn’t build up the experience of all the failed attempts.

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  7. To learn from what was a result of failure and come up with another way to solve the issue, problem, or spark a new idea. Not everything will always result in complete failure in our lives. Just another approach to discover how far we can improve our creative.

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  8. I think maybe Nikola Tesla, who worked for Edison, would have had something to say about this. Tesla was really the inventor and ideas man, whereas Edison was the entrepreneur. Should we as writers draw inspiration from others in the same way?

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    1. Taking other’s ideas and selling them is plagiarism in the world of writing, so I vote that “we as writers” should stay away from that practice. However, I would hope Edison’s philosophies, as outlined in this post, are original, and it’s certainly worthy to take note of those and keep them in one’s cache of inspirations.

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  9. Edison stole credit for all of his inventions basically, he’s the reason we have copyright laws but I appreciate the message being conveyed. Just wish you picked someone who actually was an innovator and visionary

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    1. I’m glad you appreciate the overarching message. Sometimes it’s about the words, rather than who says them, eh? I look at those quotes and it reminds me to stop procrastinating and start writing.

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