Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You owe it to yourself.

Failure is not an option.

You've heard it thousands of times, seen it shouted in a few made-for-tv movies, but you don't really believe it.  You've heard it so many times, in fact, that it probably doesn't mean anything anymore.  But just think about it for a second.

Failure is not an option.

The line is attributed to Gene Krantz, spoken from Mission Control to Apollo 13 astronauts, but it has been confirmed that Krantz never actually uttered the line during that time:  producers for the film came up with it based on interviews with Krantz.  It has become a catch-phrase used in education, NASA, used to describe key points on the public agenda spectrum.  It was the title of a movie in 2003, yet we still don't believe it, because we accept our own failures every day.

How many times have you tried to quit smoking?  It's hard, I know.  The first time you really really try.  You tell your friends you're giving it up.  You try until it hurts.  And for those who succeed, I applaud you, but for those who have failed, that one time turns into 20.  Each "attempt" makes it easier to fail.  Maybe the second time, you only try for 9 hours before deciding, "You know what?  Now isn't a good time.  I'll try again after the holidays."

Despite nifty catch-phrases like "no child left behind," children still fail every day.  And as parents, we tell our kids, "Well, that's alright buddy.  Try better next time."  In order to not make kids feel bad, everyone gets a medal for just showing up to a sporting event.  Because we don't want them to know what it feels like to fail.  And you?  Your friends rally around you every time you attempt to start writing, so they can be there for you when you throw in the towel a month later.

It makes us feel all smiles and rainbows when our friends ask us how our novel is coming along.  We tell them, "Well, something came up.  Now's not a good time.  I'm going to start working on it again when things settle down."

We want friends who say, "Oh, man," in a very sincere voice.  "Well, that's okay.  I'm sure the next time is going to be even better.  There's no sense in trying to do that when you've got this going on."  With a little pat on the head, we can let go our held breath.  Whew.  That was easy.  See?  I didn't fail, I just put it off.

Tell yourself that enough times, and you start to believe it.

Everyone has a story about how many times it took them to quit smoking, to start exercising, to start eating right.  Books have been written about how to follow a budget based on all the failures they endured ahead of time.  I was supposed to meet a man on Saturday morning at 10am - he was going to buy something I had listed on Craigslist.  I drove a half-hour to meet him - he never showed.  Never called.  Never answered my call.  How easy was it for him to tell himself, "Well, I'm a little busy right now.  I've changed my mind.  I'm sure she won't care if I don't show up."

In other words, "I'm just going to sit home and fail."

It has become too easy to fail.  We reward it.  We make excuses for it.  We excuse it in other people.  It is too easy to just not do it.  If you consistently tell yourself, "Now isn't a good time.  I'll write tomorrow/next Tuesday/next month/next NaNoWriMo," you are never ever going to get your novel finished.

Don't make excuses.  Failure is not an option.  If you don't write that book, one of two things is going to happen:  It's either never going to get written, or someone else is going to write something similar that becomes a smashing success.  Either way, you're always going to live in your old "Glory Days," talking about that "great book idea" you had, and how you could have written a best-seller "if only you'd had the time to write."

Well guess what - you did have the time to write.  The bottom line is that you failed yourself, and you failed your idea.  Anyone can come up with an idea for a book - hell, that's the easy part.  It takes courage and commitment to actually write it down.  All 90,000 words.  I read a blog yesterday that summed it up perfectly for me.  Reading this was like someone reaching down into my guts and tying my intestines in a big, pink bow.  Emma Newman wrote a blog titled "When just write is not enough."  I have never read a writing blog that touched me on such a personal level, because I am "that writer."  I have at least four unfinished manuscripts in my desk, cast aside because I couldn't deal with the fact that my clumsy writing wasn't able to reproduce the brilliant, beautiful story floating around in my head.  Instead of just getting the draft on paper and perfecting it later, I gave up.  Why?

Because not doing something is much easier than doing something.  If you don't try, you don't fail in your writing - and in one sense, that's true, but you've got to look at the bigger picture.  If you don't try, you have failed.  Doing nothing is worse than doing something and having that first draft stink.  So what if it stinks?  It's supposed to stink.  But if you don't ever get it on paper, there's nothing to revise!  Your beautiful story/character/plot is going to remain in your head forever, while you continue to lie to yourself to make yourself feel good:  "I had a great idea for a story once - I just never got around to writing it."

Bullshit.  You had a great idea for a story but you never followed through.  There is a huge difference.

Don't fail yourself.  Don't fail your story.  Make failure not an option.  There may not be a next week/next month/next year.

Don't be so touchy-feely with your failure, and quit rewarding yourself for nothing.  Don't give yourself so much credit for simply having an idea.  An idea is not a novel.  There are no awards given for simply having an idea, and if you don't have the courage to at least try to follow through, you're idea is going to remain in limbo until you die.  Or until you forget it.

And really, which is worse?

Write your novel.  Write it this November.  Write it tomorrow.  Don't forgive yourself so easily for giving up, because some day you're going to regret it.  Get back to a time when "failure" was a stranger, rather than the acquaintance lurking next door.  I promise you, we aren't going to regret it.