Friday, September 5, 2014

Be Not Afraid

I used to be so good at blogging. I just fell off the wagon for a while. But today's writing tip is something I've been thinking about a lot, lately. Enough that I actually remembered to get on and blog about it.

It's natural to be afraid of failure. I imagine this comes from an ancestral fear of the crop dying, or the hunt being unsuccessful. Being unable to eat is, indeed, a failure of dire consequences.

Even today, failure is not a pleasant experience. It hurts to see so much work go to waste, when a project doesn't work out. And sometimes, for those artistic souls among us especially, the amount of food in our house really does hinge on the level of success we achieve.

But failure is also the mother of improvement. Very few ravenously successful inventions or ideas have reached such prestige in their rough draft forms. To use a somewhat cliche example, Thomas Edison didn't hit on the right lightbulb formula on his first try. Or even his first dozen tries.

I didn't make an awesome Harry Potter wand the very first time I picked up a stick of wood and a knife. In fact, I'm a little flabbergasted at the rudimentary level of work, whenever I see those first tries. My wands look like they do now through an enormous amount of trial and error. Many attempts got scrapped in the process. And, even better, many became something else. A newer, prettier, more excellent idea that never would have happened without total failure on some front or another.

Like both of these. They actually were supposed to be something completely different, but accidents happened, and I had to improvise. The end product ended up being much better than the original concept. (Although the cheap phone pics don't at all do them justice, unfortunately.)

History is rife with examples of this, so I won't sit here and list them all. Doing that won't convince anyone anyway. Because we've all heard it before. The straight truth is that it's hard to not be afraid of failure. I get that. But


In the realm of writing, this is as applicable as anywhere. I have multiple friends in multiple places around the world who have expressed similar sentiments.

But what if they don't like it?

What if they think I'm no good?

I just don't think I could take that kind of rejection.

I mean, if you're cool being George 1.0, that's fine, I guess. See you in 30 years, still wearing 90's hair, dead end job, and probably watching old Friends reruns. I'm off to try to be successful. Even if I don't make it, I'll be in a better place than that. And I'll be happy as I do it.  

I think my point is quite clear, here. You can't possibly know what you're capable of if you avoid any and all risk. You'll never change, never grow, and never get anywhere.

Dreams can only be realized through the risk of failure.

Weird concept, but a true one. Risk begets results. Hiding begets... well, George 1. Sometimes those risks work out, and sometimes they don't. But they for sure won't work out if you don't take them. Why guarantee failure when you can reduce the chances of it by a solid 50%?

No one's first ever story is Tolkien. Not even Tolkien's. No one knows just how NANOWRIMO will be the first time they get themselves into it. Even Rowling got rejection letters. But all of those failures build you into who you are. You won't be much of anyone without them.

-Afraid of NANO because what if you don't make it? SO WHAT? You'll have learned a great deal about your writing process. You'll have experimented with new ways of writing (which might end up really working for you.) You'll have grown emotionally by putting yourself out there. And who knows. You might actually make it, and then you'll have accomplished something. There's nothing so good for the soul as succeeding at something totally crazy.

-Afraid of querying agents, because what if they say no? SO WHAT? If they say no, are you any worse off? On the contrary, you'll have learned something about what works and what doesn't, which you can use next time. You'll also learn something about yourself. That first rejection letter really is a critical moment in your life. The way you react will help define the whole rest of your path.

My first rejection really kicked me into gear. Most things I've done thus far usually fall by the wayside when the going gets tough. And to that point, writing was like that too. Casual, lazy, and not really going to go anywhere. And then I got the rejection. Unlike all of the other stuff I'd tried, this rejection sent me careening down a path of "I WILL SUCCEED NO MATTER HOW HARD IT GETS!"

I suddenly knew that I didn't mind the difficulties. I worked harder than ever, and improved enormously. And that never would have happened without the crossroads. If you hit that rejection crossroads and can't take it, well, you're probably in the wrong line of work anyway. And it's good to find that out sooner rather than later. You have to find the thing in your life that you want to work hard for.

-Afraid of showing other people your work, because what if they think you're an idiot? SHOW THEM ANYWAY. Writers aren't islands either. You will stagnate without other people to help you. That's true in any career. And if they do think you're an idiot, then at least you'll know what doesn't work, so you can fix it. (As it turns out, my mother is a spectacular proofreader. She found typos that a dozen other people never saw.)

- Afraid of fear? CAST A PATRONUS CHARM. They're invaluable.

Okay, Okay, I'll let up for now. My point is just that life is meant to be lived. Things are meant to be learned. Mistakes are MEANT to be made.

All I know is that I wouldn't trade all those mistakes for anything. Sure, they hurt at the time. But I don't want to go back to being that same old dumb teenager. I'll keep getting awesomer, thanks. 

And on that note, I'll just leave you with this Making of George 2.0 montage.