Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fail


You live in a small enough town not to be surprised when you meet someone in passing around noon, who tells you where you had breakfast, who you were with, and yes, you were eating those pancakes with sliced banana and wheat germ.

The town is small enough so that, while standing in line to use the ATM for the Santa Barbara Bank and Trust in the Montecito Von’s Shopping Center, satirically referred to as Von’s of the Stars because of an infestation of what is called the Hollywood People, you are greeted by a passerby who says “Guess I’ll see you there, what, about threeish?” You are able to understand exactly what she meant by “there.”  You have only to answer, threeish.

Unlike larger cities, say Boston or Los Angeles or New York, where you may go weeks, entire months without seeing persons you know, your city presents you the opportunity to have entire months pass without seeing acquaintances but also to see the same individuals in differing contexts several times during the course of a day.

The Internet social programs have a vast, enormous demographic.  At one point, you were at an interactive website where you noticed individuals from the west coast of three different continents.  Because of your special interests in things such as writing, publishing, and editing, the Internet social programs also have the effect of a small town, where you actually see news of friends in other cities, former students, clients, in one case reminding someone from a city other than yours that you will meet for lunch on Monday in a place more or less half the distance between you.

You were also privy to an individual expressing the opinion that writing every day is, as she put it, a bullshit proposition.  She doesn’t force the muse.  The muse comes to her when the muse is ready, and bugger all with this nonsense that the only way to be a writer is to write every day.

Reading this sentiment, you guessed she was young, serious, confident of her powers, more than likely a good writer, a considerate and considerable poet.  You understood where she was coming from.  You were once young yourself.  Not that you are in any sense old now, you are beyond that.  You also recalled that when you were young you in fact did write every day.  You were much impressed with a story you’d heard about Anthony Trollope, where his workday was such that he completed one novel in the morning and began another in the evening.

You also recalled with a certain measure of discomfort that you had your time of writing on whim, thinking to engage other things if the Muse did not stop by with a steaming casserole.  You also recalled that you did not get much growing nor did you develop curiosities about how things were done. You finished manuscripts, but you did not experience that sense of momentum and independence you experience these days.  You tended to judge a day as a good writing day or a bad writing day, accordingly judging what you wrote on a particular day either good or really tuned in or struggling or awful.  Worse, there was no sense of continuity.

Continuity is a key element here; it allows you a closer rather than sporadic entry into the landscape of the story, helps you maintain that floating stage of being in and alert to the elements as opposed to waiting for flashes of insight or discovery, the literary equivalent of a buried treasure map or a note in a bottle, washed up along the shore.  Continuity takes you beyond good days and glorious days and dreadful days, transporting you beyond judgment and into the reason you got into this racket in the first place, the sense that you don’t have to wait, don’t have to fight or look for decisions as in a boxing match or scores as in tennis or football or baseball.

The outcome is not a matter of winning or losing a game nor of excelling or somehow being remiss, rather it is of a chance to visit the landscape, which is decorated with vehicles of your choice to ride about in, persons of your choice who wish to accomplish unusual activities, decisions to make, details to note down, and details to later on remove.

Projects or properties are important outcomes.  For you, they are not easily achieved any more than digging a deep hole is something you can achieve with ease and the muses and heavens know you have managed to dig yourself into some rather deep holes when it was not your intention to do so.

Writing every day gives you a better chance to fail than writing sporadically does; it also gives you the mindset to continue not out of stubborn determination but rather of a vision of the relative unimportance of failure in the long haul.  When you are failing on a daily basis, it ceases to matter as much as it would were you only writing two or three days a week, giving you failure to look forward to two or three days a week or, worse, being dogged by failure for a chunk of the week.

Such things vanish from your record books or score cards.  Not that you would ever note it down as such, but “Wrote all week and really screwed up a story,” is ever so much healthier a thing to say than, “Screwed up two days last week.  Got to get better.”

The elephant you’ve introduced here is that writing every day does not guaranteed you will not fail gloriously.  It might mean you will, if you keep up the work, fail with less panache or brio; your greatest success will be that you’ve worked a full measure at something you care about.  If, after a time, you sense it does not requite your affections, you have the delicious opportunity of using your imagination to move on to something that might.

You could start by writing a story in which the person who wrote the diatribe against writing every day agrees to at least give it a try, with no promise of results or outcome.

The story might be a failure, but it would surely be fun.  


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