I recently saw this FB post going around with Will Smith talking about the importance of failure and I can’t agree more. Failure is super-important in so many different ways. Meditation is all about failure. You sit and your thoughts wander—failure! But that’s the point. Your thoughts wander and you bring them back. Over and over again. That’s all meditation is and if you don’t fail, you don’t ever learn how to bring your thoughts back to the present moment. Without failure, there is no mindfulness.
Failure is also super-important to writing. I’ve written five novels and all of them are failures. Big failures, because writing a novel isn’t any easy undertaking. Writing a novel takes time and effort and a lot of moments of incredible pain and misery. Well, okay, it’s not all that horrible. But it ain’t no picnic, either.
How do you know that all the novels you’ve written are failures, you might ask? That’s a good question. If you have any suggestions for an answer, let me know. When I say I’ve written five novels that are failures I mean that none of them have become published books. That’s one definition of failure. It’s a very narrow definition of failure. There are many great novels that never become published books.
I wrote five novels, and as I explained above, that’s no easy thing. So that I wrote them is not a failure. There are many, many people who would like to write a novel and never do. You can argue that every novel that actually gets written is by definition not a failure.
Some people have read these failed novels and quite enjoyed them. They’re mostly my friends or my husband, so they could be lying. But surely not for all five of the novels. I like the novels I have written. They give me pleasure. They make me laugh and sometimes cry. That is not a failure.
I won’t lie to you—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that I will always fail at writing a novel. “This is something you just can’t do, Robyn,” is a thought I’ve had more than once. But don’t worry. Most of the time I don’t listen to that voice.
In order to learn how to write a novel you have to fail at writing novels. I think this is just the way it is. Most writers do not publish the first novel they write. Or if they do, the version of the first novel they wrote that gets published is so different from the original that it barely makes sense to call it the same novel.
I am not dismayed at my failure to write a successful novel. Okay, sometimes I’m dismayed, but not right at this moment. I don’t even think that the five novels I’ve written will always be failures. Some of them might become “successes” someday. Maybe you’ll get to read them and decide for yourself whether they’re failures or not.
Right now, I’m working on my 6th novel, which is technically a whole new version of my 4th novel (see how that goes?). I’m trying something new, a different approach. It’s taking time and effort and a lot of moments of incredible pain and misery. It might still be a failure in the end.
But in addition to the moments of pain and misery, there are moments of joy and delight. There is the wonder of using these flimsy things called words to make a world and fill it with people. And honestly, I’m not sure I could stop doing it if I wanted to.
So here’s to failing again. Or maybe not.
P.S. Here’s someone who has succeeded at writing a novel and spectacularly so! My friend Leesa Cross-Smith’s novel, Whiskey & Ribbons, will be available from Hub City Press in March. You can pre-order it here or at our local bookstore, Village Lights. I’ll be reading with Leesa at Carmichael’s Bookstore on March 8 at 7:00. Come check it out!