The story goes that there was once a batch of brilliant young men at a US varsity who all seemed to have amazing creative literary talent. They were would-be poets, novelists and essayists. They were extraordiry in their ability to put the English language to its best use. These promising young men met regularly to read and criticize each other’s work. And critique they did!
These men were merciless with one another. They dissected the most minute literary expression into a hundred pieces. They were heartless, tough, even mean in their criticism. The sessions became such fierce ares of literary criticism that the members of this exclusive club called themselves the ‘Stranglers’.
Not to be outdone, the women of literary talent in the university resolved to start a club of their own, one comparable to the Stranglers. They called themselves the ‘Wranglers’. They, too, read their works to one another. But there was one great difference. The criticism was much softer, more positive, more encouraging. Sometimes, there was almost no criticism at all. Every effort, even the most feeble one, was encouraged as harbinger of a better work in future.
Twenty years later an alumnus of the university was doing an exhaustive study of his classmates’ careers when he noticed a vast difference in the literary accomplishments of the Stranglers as opposed to the Wranglers. Of all the bright young men in the Stranglers, not one had made a significant literary accomplishment of any kind. But from the Wranglers had emerged over half a dozen successful writers, some of them earning tiol renown quite early.
Talent levels of the two groups? Probably the same. Levels of education? Again not much difference. But the Stranglers promoted an atmosphere of contention and self doubt. The Wranglers highlighted the best, not the worst; the members backed each other to go for their dreams.
In his inspiratiol ‘A Touch of Wonder’, late writer and editor Arthur Gordon concluded this story by noting: The Stranglers strangled, while the Wranglers were determined to give each other a lift.
Gordon himself tried to cheer up struggling creators, and writers in particular, when he wrote: ‘You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. Failure is a teacher – a harsh one, perhaps, but the best. You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts? That’s great! Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason. Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason? You’ve got to put failure to work for you. That’s where you’ll find success. On the far side of failure.’