Taped to the wall in my office is a print out Sara Zarr’s brilliant blog post on failure. If you’ve never read it, what are you waiting for? Each time I sit down to write, I glance up at it and scan through the words. After the ritualistic read through I take a deep breath, put my fingers to the keyboard, and begin typing words into my laptop. I completed the same ritual before tackling this very blog post. Call me superstitious if you like, but, in truth, it is not superstition at all that drives me to do this. It is my own fear of failure.
Sara opens her wonderful post with these words:
“I’m inspired by failure.
Which is a good thing, because right now I’ve got a first draft of a new book in front of me, and it feels like a massive pile of FAIL. (I should note: this is my book.)”
I am daily inspired by Sara’s blog post, peppered with examples of famous folks risking and overcoming failure with great successes. But regrettably, I am not Sara Zarr, and I am certainly not inspired by actual failure. Oh, no. I am afraid of it. Seriously. Fear of failure has caused me many times over to shut down, to give up, to quit. I’m certain I’m not the only person struggling with this fear. Authors, actors, athletes, teachers, students, parents, and kids are certainly all affected by it. If you are human, you may (and will) fail at any number of things in your lifetime—just one of the cold, hard facts of life. A fact some of us had rather not face—some of us being me.
Also unlike Sara Zarr, fear of failure doesn’t wash over me as I’m reading through a recently completed crappy first draft. Nope. It consumes me much sooner, typically while I’m in the process of writing that crappy first draft. And pounding out that first draft is exactly what I am in the process of doing right now—both with this blog post, and with my second book. Even now, questions roll in waves through my mind: What if I have nothing to say? What if this is stupid? What if no one gets it? What if I never get this written? Something tells me at least one other person reading this has heard this very same voice asking these very same questions. I don’t know if you’re as bad as me, but I often hear this voice even during research stages, long before it’s time to write the actual story.
So for me, and perhaps for you, my battle isn’t fought after adding “The End” to my first draft. It isn’t fought in months of revision. It is fought on a day-by-day basis as I struggle to actually make it to “The End” in the first place. To me, the opportunity to make revisions to a manuscript is a hard-earned reward for actually plowing through the process of creating. I am perfectly fine with having produced trash. I can turn trash into treasure. I’m simply terrified I won’t be able to produce anything at all—in my mind the pinnacle of failure as a writer.
If you are like me and are currently slogging through a first draft of a book, or a blog post, or a note of warm wishes on a birthday card, whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep fighting that fight. Keep adding one word at a time. Think of how utterly successful you’ll feel when at last you do reach “The End.” There is no feeling in the world quite like it.
Fear is not important. It is important that we choose to overcome it. Because really, isn’t never trying a failure in itself? Isn’t giving up? Quitting? Aren’t all of those things the very failure we all so fear? Why, yes. I think they are. For that reason I choose to plant my butt firmly in the chair, place my fingers lightly on the keyboard, turn off my negative thoughts, and let my words (any words) scroll across the screen. In the end, my words may not sell. My words may not inspire. My words may be read only by me. But when I end my story with one last stroke of the keyboard, I know I have succeeded in emerging as the victorious in one of life’s most difficult battles. I have looked fear of failure right square in the eye and dared it to stop me.
Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about letting go and finding your own way. It is set to release from Delacorte Press/RHCB on June 11, 2013. You can find out more about Laura and EVERY DAY AFTER by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.