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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. Wow, I came accross this blog in the wee hours of the morning working on my masters in technology and found it very inspirational. Thank you for “Gift of a Miracle”. It helped me a lot!

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  2. Well written. I especially liked the “If you’re waiting for inspiration, you might be left waiting” bit. Reminded me of something else I read recently – The best way to get started with something is to get started with it.

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  3. Decades ago when I started running, long before I envisioned running 26 miles at one time, I started one mailbox at a time. I call this my “Mailbox Approach”, which I apply to learning the business of blogging. Some days are more challenging than others.

    Thank you Alva Edison for your realistic and inspirational approach to doing anything – it was the shot in the arm I needed today!

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  4. An ex girl friend used to say “If you want to find your prince charming you first have to kiss a lot of frogs.”

    The fact that she is an ex girlfriend means that I am frog, I suppose.

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  5. I love this mindset. Sometimes I find myself feeling negative because I failed at one thing over and over and over again, but the first quote made me feel better. I am a firm believer that passion and inspiration will produce amazing and authentic work. I completely agree with you when you say that “inspiration will find you, and what you produce will show it”.

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  6. I love this mindset. He could have given up!! I think it’s true…”If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you’ll see obstacles.” It’s all about the mindset!!!!

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  7. I find this philosophy of getting through life’s “failures” especially helpful. It gives us a sense of accomplishment rather than just flat-out failing; instead, we feel as if we’ve discovered things or ways of doing things that don’t work as we’d like them to.

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  8. I write. Im a poet. Long ago I learned that you don’t stop in the middle of a ‘flow’ to edit the first line, you don’t stop until you run out of words, not paper. And once that’s done, even if you KNOW this is drek, you look at it, and look at it, and suddenly you realize that one really good line is where you go next. The rest is what got that little bit to your paper.
    Way way too many people spend their time deciding on a title and then trying to write the poem to fit it. Way too many people can’t write the second line until they have the first lne ‘just right”.

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