I can produce my blog posts, copywriting or magazine articles on time and in abundance. No problem. However, I’m turtle s-l-o-w in writing my novels. In eighteen years, I’ve only completed four—all still unpublished. To me, only the last two are worthy to be on a bookshelf; the first two were teaching me how to write.
I’ve always sort of felt like a loser writer because of this, but a recent epiphany taught me why failure in your writing is good…
What Pixar Has to Say About Failure
I read the book Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It was fascinating to learn how they created Toy Story, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles and so many other animated movies I love. They are master storytellers.
The process of developing a story is one of discovery…. While the process is difficult and time consuming, the crew never believed that a failed approach meant that they had failed. Instead, they saw that each idea led them a bit closer to find the better option.
No matter how hard I plot or outline ahead of time, my novels do not flow from me in an easy, A-Z fashion. My books feel more like I’m assembling a jigsaw puzzle without the box top showing the final photo. Even worse, there are countless extra pieces I do not need and must discard along the way. My stories feel more like trial and error.
Creativity, Inc. says it’s not failure to take years to write a novel or anything else, with endless scenes discarded along the way.
That is the writing process.
Lose Your Failure Baggage
For most of us, failure comes with baggage—a lot of baggage—that I believe is traced directly back to our days in school. From a very early age, the message is drilled into our heads: Failure is bad; failure means you didn’t study or prepare; failure means you slacked off or—worse!—aren’t smart enough to begin with. Thus, failure is something to be ashamed of.
Maybe we should unlearn what they taught us in the classroom in order to write better. Each time you hit a dead end in your story, or discover something you thought was right with your plot no longer works, then CELEBRATE!
You’re one step closer to your true story.
With writing, you are creating something from nothing. That is both thrilling and terrifying (T2), which is exactly how it should be.
The Best Reasons to Fail as a Writer
Creativity, Inc. has an entire chapter entitled, Fear and Failure. Here are my two favorite take-aways on the subject.
1. Fail early and Fail Fast
The book compares failure to learning to ride a bike. You topple over and scrape your hands and knees multiple times before you can balance and pedal in rhythm together. Mistakes are part of the journey.
The same is true for writing.
“The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it…this strategy dooms you to fail.”
Stop panicking that you’re doing it all wrong.
You’re not. Keep writing.
2. Failure is Inevitable
Most see mistakes as a necessary evil, in writing and life. Catmull contends mistakes aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new, which is valuable because without those mistakes, there’s no originality and that’s what storytelling is all about.
“The concept of zero failures with creative endeavors is worse than useless. It’s counterproductive….experimentation in your story is seen as necessary and productive, not a frustrating waste of time.”
Uncertainty is part of writing’s magic and mystery. Quit fretting because any outcome is a good outcome. Failure in your writing is good.
How have you failed as a writer? What failure baggage do you need to unload to achieve more writing successes? Share in the comments section.