|Photo credit: photosteve101 on Flickr|
I’m not here to talk about all the different ways a writer could fail, because quite frankly, we writers—hell, we as a people in general—tend to be pretty hard on ourselves when it comes to chasing our dreams and goals. Any hiccup, speed bump or letdown could be in one way or another interpreted as a failure.
Failure is a natural part of life—it’s a testament of the risks we’ve taken, they’re battle scars impossible to avoid throughout our lives and in the end, they leave us all the wiser.
But there’s this one particular failure that many writers are afraid of, one that has killed novels before they had a chance to live, one that has thwarted dreams and left many-a-writer feeling unworthy of the title.
By and large, writers are often afraid of writing badly.
I see it all the time on Twitter—writers who want to write, who have this goal, this dream of finishing their manuscript, who have put some words down and see others speeding ahead to meet their daily writing goals…and yet they hesitate. They look at the words they have so far and they pause. They say things like “I’m stuck,” or “I just can’t write today,” or “Maybe I’ll write later.”
And I recognize it because I’ve been there—because at times, I still find myself there. For me, the fear or writing badly is at its worst just before I start a new novel—that lingering whisper that looks at the plot I’ve thrown together or the first words I’ve scratched onto paper and sneers while it says the words: your writing sucks. They’re the doubts that crawl in and say, you can’t really write that—it’s going to be terrible.
For others, the fear of writing badly kicks in part-way through the story. It doesn’t matter when it kicks in though, because the result is the same: a seeming inability to write.
Something you need to understand—something I occasionally need to remind myself of—is this fear of failure is a lie. It’s a trick, because by being so afraid to put down a word, you’re already failing. By not writing anything at all, you lose by default.
Something you need to understand is it's infinitely better to have 80,000 words of a mediocre story than nothing at all.
Something you need to understand is even if you have to toss those 80,000 words and rewrite the whole thing entirely, even if the manuscript ends up in the bottom of a drawer, even if the words are so awful you’re embarrassed to show even your closest friends, you haven’t failed at all.
You haven’t failed because you wrote something; you created something, something that no one else could create the way you did. And maybe it’s ugly, and maybe it’s not the way you imagined it, but none of that matters because with every word you write, with every chapter you string together, with every novel you finish—terrible or not—you learn something. Those 80,000 words didn’t write themselves—you learn from the process just as much as you learn from reading and studying the craft.
The fear of failure is a lie, because you cannot fail, not really—you can only learn from your experience. And maybe you learn that you went about it the wrong way, or that you really need to study how to write dialogue, or that you’ve possibly written the most cliché-ridden antagonist in the history of terrible antagonists, but you learned something. And you’ll take whatever you’ve learned with you as you write the next book, the next short story or poem or whatever it is you write.
When you’re afraid of writing badly, don’t be. Put the words down and let them be God-awful and know that it doesn’t matter. These words are yours and one way or another, you’ll learn from them.
So go forth and write, friends. I’ll be cheering you along the way.
Also, read this beautiful post, DON’T BE AFRAID TO WRITE A BAD BOOK, from Tahereh Mafi, which basically covers everything I didn’t, and then some.