Saturday, December 21, 2013

Failure, Revision, and Dreams

 You have reached the point in your career well beyond your accommodation to rejection.  A significant part of the early game is arriving at a place where you feel comfortable enough to submit your work to individuals you may know by name, but not in person.  

You also understand how many such individuals have nothing personal  invested in you or your work until some happenstance where  something produces enough chemistry for them to respond to you. You understand now that a rejection slip or a letter of regret or a wish for good luck or even an encouragement to try "us" again, or to let us see your next project, whatever it may be, by which time they may not remember who you are now, having the temerity to address "them" by a first name.

You understand that a rejection is a recognition that you have finished something you thought well enough of to submit to a specific place or places.  In effect, you are attempting to start a conversation, but the person or individuals with whom you are attempting this dialogue  respond like strangers you meet at a party,  Nice talking to you, they say, only it was more a politeness than a niceness, and although that is something, if you are not comfortable with the work you are doing, it can lead to frustration of the sort that can lead you to think in terms of conspiracy theories.

In a real sense, it is a conspiracy theory, but not the kind you thought, about the old school tie or connections approach.  The conspiracy is more of your own making, that you can do it all by yourself.  You can and must do some of it yourself, but you cannot possibly do it all.

After a time of this, and with an equivalent of a batting average, you were able to move beyond that sense of sting when you opened the envelope or got the email saying no and wishing you the best of luck elsewhere.

You never wanted it to be about luck.  You wanted and arrived at a place of your own making, a place of success and failure.  You understand:  Any successes you've had with your work have been the result of a combination of risk and accident.  To achieve this jumping off place where you embrace risk and the accidents it can provide, you have to be open to failure.

Failure helps you understand how the things you read when you were deciding you wanted to do this were similar results of attempted conversations that paid off.  You were in effect having help from all the books you read that you liked and all the books you read that you hated.  Thus you had a picture of where you wished to be and where you wished not to be.

Some editors said they would enter a conversation with you provided you would listen to some suggestions.  Funny how many of these suggestions reminded you of things you saw amiss in the books you hated or in the works of classmates or, later on, authors whose materials you were assigned to edit.

Today a psychiatrist who is a student in your Saturday group told you he was amazed at how you could pick seemingly hidden things out of sentences and paragraphs.  You nodded thanks, wondering how it was you could not see some of the comments your publisher had made on some of the stories in your forthcoming collection, all stories that had been previously published in other, sometimes prestigious journals.

How could they have been good enough to appear there and need your attention for a new iteration?

Because perfection is a myth.  We live in the midst of failure:  failed souffles, failed relationships, failed attempts, failed follow-through.  You have been in situations where someone, whose judgment and taste seem lacking to you, is able to spot something you missed in the revision of your own story.  Why does this character's severe allergy to peanuts come so far into the story when its consequence is so important?  How could you not see that?

You could not see it because you are distracted or bored or in love or interested in music or curious about how, because a spider has eight legs, if you could hear it walking, would it sound like two horses?  You could not see it because you were in some other world than the story where the infraction took place and all the while, you should have been where you needed to be, focused on what you needed to be focused on.

Failure is the place to rise out of.  At this stage of the game, you have a sense of being in the place of failure and of having realized, then tried to work your way out, by falling in love with a risky outcome that thumbs its nose at convention and expectation.  The fact of taking the risk is often not enough; other factors influence the outcome.  In consequence, you take the attitude of hoping for success but knowing the potential for failure, nevertheless.

Failure is having a dream, acting on it, then falling short.

Revision is valuing the dream enough to try it with another outcome, another, previously undreamed of approach, either of ingenuity or desperation, although since when could you distinguish to you satisfaction between desperation and ingenuity.

Revision is trying to overcome failure.

So let's say you have managed for the time being to overcome a failure to the point where it becomes viable.  Then someone comes along and wishes to reprint it, provided you spend some time on one or two crucial points?

So you'll have grown a bit, won't you, a tad away from what once was success but is now seen as having a missing part or an inarticulate part?

Will you ever work past failure?

No; you'll have had to stop dreaming in the first place.

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