Facing the fear of failing

Posted in About writing on November 13th, 2009 by Jeppe Grünberger

I think one of the most profound characteristics of writing is having to deal with failure; not failure limited to rejection by a publisher, but fear of encountering and facing a failure you yourself have crafted. Quite possibly this also applies to many other aspects of life; of daring to move beyond the familiar patterns, but I will contain myself mainly to the theme of writing here and let people make their own conclusions.

Our failures tell a lot about us, possibly more than we wish to know ourselves and certainly more than we wish to have others know. Therefor, probably, writers and other artists are often very protective of their works and sometimes reluctant to risk trying to publish it. Facing a very physical, crafted instance of your failure is hard to ignore. You wouldn’t believe how often I have wanted delete the short story of the IKEA sofa that I published here the other day, but I haven’t done it yet. To me, it’s a failure, and all I really want to do with it is delete it. And possibly it should be deleted so that no poor soul has the grave misfortune of reading it, but I have to learn and so I have to face failures. This blog is not just meant to be about me posting short texts to potential readers and curious friends but a sort of professional diary and mental work space. Yes, the idea of a mental work space sounds awfully pretentious, but give it a chance before you discard it.

Generally, writing is thought of as a mental, intellectual creative art form. It’s about having the ideas and the thoughts, and while that may be partially true; more than anything else its a craft. The idea changes profoundly on its way from your mind to paper, no matter how thoroughly you think you have it thought through. Writing is something that you get better at by doing it, that you rehearse and practice constantly if you want to be good. To create a text, to build it, is a very different thing from analyzing it. Sure, it can help to be good at analyzing your own work, but if you want to build it yourself, you analytical skills are more likely to inhibit you than assist you. Take the sofa-story for example – I still believe the idea of it could have worked. It could have been amusing and even just the slightest bit interesting, but it didn’t turn out that way. And that is not the idea in itself, its just poorly crafted. The sentences don’t flow the way they should, and the implicit structures that should have formed the basis for making it funny somehow just collapse.

Again, the sound of implicit structures and flowing sentences sound intellectual, but they are actually not. I don’t think that many if any writers plan every finer point of their writing – the flow and the interesting structures that make it good. Its a craft, a feel that you have when you are doing it, that this is right. This works. And sometimes it doesn’t work. You toil with a text for hours on end, and you keep changing small tings to improve it – but it doesn’t happen. Perhaps you are having an off day, or perhaps you are simply just not good enough as a craftsman to make this yet. That’s what happened with the IKEA story, took me several hours of annoyance, and I just wanted to delete it. Admittedly, I wasn’t having my best day and did have some trouble keeping my mental focus. But there are also lessons for me to learn from this abomination of my mind, so that the next time I try to create a story with two layers that are suppose to interweave into something amusing I will remember this failure. And hopefully I will learn from it as well and get better. I believe that if you have taken the strange choice to write, you cannot fear failure – you are more likely to encounter it here than in most any other professions. And you will only have one person to blame for it as well.

But like any other craftsman it can help to have a place that is defined as where you work and where you can evaluate your own work. A place where you go when you work, where your tools are. That is a keyboard or a pen to a writer, but more than that it is a place in his or her mind. And I actually made this blog partially to expand that workplace. So that I didn’t only have my current novel and my private battle with it, but a place to make small attempts at other things and practice daring to make them public. To practice having people either love or hate what I did.

Now, none of this will help anyone who already read Of Hopelessly Immature Furniture and feel that I owe them five minutes of their lives, but perhaps they find it a bit more forgivable now, seeing as I still spent more wasteful time writing it than they did reading it.

We cannot be afraid of failure, for only the lessons of failure and the will to risk failure will help us expand ourselves beyond the boundaries in our lives that inhibit us and shorten our days and our lives. Fear keeps us at home where we feel safe and where the days pass, literally, like sands through the infamous hourglass. Writing is where I come to seek out failure, to do battle with it every day – and a few times I feel like I win. But certainly not always, and even when I don’t win, I still have to write about it. Because, that is what I have chosen to do.