And by that I mean: how to console oneself on a job well failed. When I think about screwing up something royally, just doing a really good job of doing badly, I want to comfort myself with a blanket on a couch and maybe a cup of tea. Okay, and chocolate. Mmm. But the failing–this is what I want to talk about.
I recently came across this compilation of seven writers’ views of and experiences with failure (well worth a read). But this subject is painful, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone is immune to the sting of failure. As a writer, I know keenly what literary failure feels like, both in the form of rejection letters and my own inner critic’s harsh admonishments. And even beyond writing, I know my life has been shaped in no small degree by failure, especially those experiences where I took the failure personally and made it about me. Those times might have led to my being less likely to try something again or put myself out there. Because if there’s one thing I know about myself (and most people), it’s that I like to succeed. Like, really prefer it. It means acceptance and relief and the illusion of importance. Failure just makes me squirm and feel like a no-good nobody.
What if failure is all there is? What if success is just a fantasy, a drug that ups the ante each time you go there, so you can never actually reach the heights you’re striving for? I’m going to admit something here. I had this strange feeling when my first book came out. Of course I was delighted and excited and proud and grateful. I’d worked hard. But I also felt restless and unsatisfied. There was failure in that success. Because, as many writers will say, a book is never finished, never perfect, and just because it’s published doesn’t mean you are truly happy with it. Maybe this makes me seem ungracious, but hear me out. My creative goals have never been only as big as the book I am writing. They have always been as big as, well, the universe–and that is ever-expanding. My first book, my fifth or tenth book will always be steps towards something, and that something is always moving away from me. It’s not something I will ever catch. So, I am always going to fail to achieve it. Sad, ain’t it?
Maybe the thing to do is to shift the focus, the goal, from being that uncatchable something to the steps along the way. Or maybe it’s just to stop shining my success-finding-light on anything. Because isn’t that innately problematic?
So I really want to know: what are your experiences with failure? How do you measure it against success and still feel human at the end of the day? Strategies, game-plans, tips–these are what I need. Because a supportive community is a safety net against failure, isn’t it?
Forgive the gratuitous rainbow. I’m sorry. It was an itch I had to scratch. ‘Cause you know what’s on that warm blanket I’m wrapped in with my chocolate and tea? Yup. Lots and lots of rainbows.