Monday, September 20, 2010


Which means fear of the blank paper.*

I don't have a fear of the blank page. I love a good blank page, a whole blank journal even. It's so full of potential. Imagine all the fantastic, beautiful, hilarious things that could end up on there!

No, I have a fear of a half-filled page of bad writing. Call it vacansocrapurosophobia. The flip side of that blank page full of potential is a scribbled-on piece of garbage that I'm embarrassed to recycle without shredding it first. That's what haunts me.

I have a new book idea. It might be my favorite book idea ever. It's so pretty right now, so hilarious and yet touching, so unique and yet universal. And so completely unwritten, and therefore so fraught with the looming specter of total, heart-breaking failure to carry it off in a way that is at all close to my beloved vision for it.

This is the writer's dilemma: I have to be madly in love with an idea in order to even consider starting, given the amount of time and sweat (well, mental sweat) and energy I know it's going to take. But if I'm too in love with it, I'm terrified of blowing it.

This summer, though, I got a wonderful piece of advice: Redefine failure. As in, whenever you find yourself not trying something for fear you'll fail, redefine what "failure" will mean in that situation. For me, for any writer but in particular for those of you who have "always wanted to, but...", maybe failure shouldn't mean "unpublished" or "not as perfect as I hoped." Maybe failure should mean "never tried." And there's one obvious way to make sure that doesn't happen.

Excuse me, I have a book to go start.

* Also the title of an 826michigan student publication of just the kind you'd be supporting if you'd already signed on to force me to dress up like a robot and dance on the Jumbotron.


cath c said...

perfect word for it! that second, i mean...

oh the great idea just before it becomes reality.

edison and michael jordan can both be paraphrased here for your benefit:
edison: if i did not fail one hundred times, i would not have succeeded once.

m.j.: (ok, so i googled for the actual) I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Mary Witzl said...

How timely your post is.

Two months ago, I went back to my Documents file to sort through all my ms. I was full of myself because I finally had an agent who got my work and I was sure that I'd find another ms there to send off to him.

What I found instead was exactly what you've described -- really, I couldn't shred it fine enough.

Whenever I start to write now, I feel a little awed by the whole process of taking a great idea and turning it into a compelling story with tight prose that zings and believable characters and plenty of tension and humor and character development. It's so hard to carry that off! And so impossible to do if you're too timid to take the plunge.

WordWrangler said...

Redefine Failure? I agree. I read a quote that is supposedly by Einstein, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."

Jump in, girl, with both pens blazing. That story ain't gonna write itself. ;)


Jacqui said...

cath, the mj quote is perfect -- thanks.

Mary, that's what it is -- awe at the hugeness of the project ahead. But I can't imagine you found anything that bad -- your writing is lovely.

Donna, here I go... :)