Thursday, September 30, 2010

Work in Progress: Not Failing Better*, but Simply Failing

And not failing—I’m not writing in favor of failure! But I have been thinking lately about the idea of doing new things that we may not be excellent at right away, things that will shake up our brains and push us into new territory. For me, this happens to be mental territory—despite my secret fascination with non-fiction accounts of Everest/K2 expeditions gone disastrously wrong, I don’t see a trip to Nepal in my future. I don’t like physical suffering, and when the going gets tough, I immediately want to sit down and eat some Junior Mints.

But tough mental going might be doable. I’ve recently become involved in something that involves words—so that seems comfortable and familiar—but this activity uses words in a very different way than I’m used to (no, not competitive Scrabble), and in a way that’s interestingly uncomfortable for me. Sorry to seem so secretive, but it’s all so new and seems fragile—like the way I feel when I’m thinking about a new novel idea, as if one wrong comment might bring the whole structure down. So I’m keeping this to myself a little longer.

Since I’ve been launched into this new, humbling, hard-for-me environment, I’ve had the kind of new insights that have startled me with their clarity, and my mind—pushed off its familiar path—has produced some interesting connections, so much so that I think I have the germ of the next novel. And just to prove how differently I’ve been thinking…I HAVE THE TITLE OF THIS NOVEL, and even my picky husband had to admit that it was an amazing title.

I know the evidence of the title is so powerful that no further proof is needed, but just to show that the universe can be helpful, yesterday a childhood buddy who has nothing to do with creative writing posted a link on Facebook to this article about the dangers of perfectionism. This article was written for parents of kids who are competitive skiers (I had no idea that was a sizeable audience!), but this paragraph resonated with my current state of mind:

“Though perfectionists often achieve a high degree of success, they often don’t fully realize their ability and achieve true success because of this profound fear of failure. Why? The only way to attain true success is to risk failure, yet perfectionistic children are often unwilling to take that risk. Though the chances of success increase when they take risks, the chances of failure also increase. For example, the only way to ski their fastest may be to ski a really straight line, but there's always the chance of hooking a tip or not being able to hold that line and sliding low on a turn. So perfectionistic children hover in a “safety zone” in which they remain safely at a distance from failure, for example, they are solid top-ten finishers, but are also stuck at a frustrating distance from success. They know they can be really successful, but they just can't understand why they can't get there.”

Change “skiing” to “writing,” and change “children” to “writers,” and redefine “success” to “emotional honesty,” and I’d say this piece could easily appear in a writing magazine. Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

Go forward today (or tomorrow)…uncomfortably.

*Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.