I was talking to my friend Dianne on Saturday about how when faced with the idea of tackling a project I’m really excited about versus curling up on the couch to watch Netflix, I’ll choose Netflix 90% of the time. How fucked up is that line of logic? Through chatting about how rejection is actually painful, even though it’s normal, and how telling stories is a risky business, I worked it through to the same thing that plagues a lot of my life: I hate to fail.
I mean, I really hate it.
I don’t consider the act of writing a bad novel to be a failure; I’ve written loads of novels that were fun for what they were, but didn’t have the chops to become anything more than a first draft. They were practice in writing a first draft. I have no more interest in Johnny or his homoerotic relationship with a domestic terrorist. I enjoyed writing it. In the throes of that draft, I thought there might be something there. But given some distance, it’s nothing really to call home about.
But trunking DREAMING OF EDEN? That was a failure. It was a piece of work I wrote feeling that spark of, “Hey, this could actually be something.” And with every draft, it felt really close to being something. It never materialized for whatever reason, either my own lack of current skill to rehabilitate it or just being the right story at the wrong time.
The novel I’m working on right now has that same spark for me — I work on it with this feeling of, “You know, this could be a really fun read when it’s done,” and the next thing I think is but what if I’m doing it entirely wrong? After all, I’ve been wrong before.
The truth is that if my choice is frustrated comfort or exciting risk, I’m going to choose comfort most of the time. Which is stupid, because most of the time exciting risk has lead to better things that trying to force myself into contentedness in a box.
I’d like to say that realizing part of the problem with my writing habits (the fear of failure) is going to help me turn it all around. That I’ll write more than two days in September (yeah, that happened in August) and actually make some progress in finishing my goals with SEVEN SISTERS. Saying that wouldn’t recognize that this preoccupation with failure is at the core of my very persona.
I go through periods where I doggedly fight the notion that I could even fail. I jump into everything two feet forward, ready to simply succeed through sheer force of trying alone. And this will usually turn out alright for me more often than it doesn’t; I’m a quick learner, and I learn best through the try/fail cycle. But I also go through periods where the try/fail cycle emotionally exhausts me, and the idea of having to fail again makes me want to never take another risk, especially when the fails have been large in the past. Comfort and stability are important motivators for me.
I can say that I’ll try to remind myself that pushing outside of my comfort zone is a good thing — that there’s a difference between the comfort that comes from success and the comfort that comes from not trying.
Somewhat perfectly, as I was finishing this up, my boyfriend retweeted this by Saladin Ahmed (who I really ought to follow on Twitter; his feed is often hilarious, fascinating, and honest):
Try to write regularly. Forgive yourself when you can’t. Try again. RT @UAL4649 What should we do when we’re struggled with our writing?
— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) August 31, 2015