Type at least 1 character to search
Back to top

Free To Fail

Remember This

I once read a short but amazing interview with author Richard Flanagan (amongst many others he wrote ‘The sound of one hand clapping’ and ‘The narrow road to the deep north’). In the short piece below I paraphrase and extend on some of the things he was saying in that interview. He was speaking about writing. And freedom. And nature. And Indigenous Australia. And even technology.

He had an epic line on social media and privacy which many could action – it went something like this, “the aim of all dictators is to destroy all public life, because it is there we know freedom”. But it was his angles on failure and nature and Indigenous Australia that truly captivated me. And perhaps it was because much of it I had already sensed.

Hi line “writing is mostly about failure” was an approach I had been incorporating into higher education settings for years. It was one of the ideals I imparted to students during our first meeting and something I brought back into their consciousness at certain points during the semesters and years. Many had often found themselves thinking and writing and creating in a manner they may never have done before. And I was aware of their anxiety as a result.

And I’d tell them that in amongst the sea of words and ideas and the complexities of all the different angles and mediums we were playing with – and in amongst all the associated angst and frustration and unfinished scribbled messy notes and loose plans scattered across the floor – like an unknown you can reach out and touch – is where all the cool stuff about learning and scholarship and academia and hey, I guess life, lies. And once you understand that you’re free.

And to kind of ram that point home (it can be a hard one to engage with and believe) I would ask them (in person and also by bulk email / announcement) to remember this …

learning is about failure

somewhere in between the start point and where you think you have finished

between your beginning and the failure you submit

is something amazing


and once you understand that you are free


you are free to question

and free to attack

you are free to defend

with everything you have


you are free to change and keep changing


free to live

free to love

free to laugh


you are free to break down and cry


free to not conform

free to not succeed


guys you are free

to risk everything.


My students.


Flanagan, R. 2018. 'things i know'. Smith Journal. Volume 28. p031-032.


287mm x 420mm (A3) - 100GSM Paper / Charcoal / Indesign.

Image I & II

Image I (featured image on home page) is the Indesign jpeg export. Image II (this page) is a wheatpasting trial of an older version of the poster - pasted up on 8th November 2020 6.17pm and then recaptured all weathered about a month later in driving rain on 13th December 5.15PM.