Notes From the Cliff--Cliff Notes! Ha!

“Success is counted sweetest by those who ‘nere succeed” ~ Emily Dickinson

Here’s the thing, success is fleeting. But failure, ah failure is your friend forever. Failure is the BFF of therapists everywhere, the boon of self-help articles and blog posts, the bane of the author’s existence. It’s the reason preachers don their preacher suits on Sunday, to offer encouragement and lessons in how to avoid failure or come against failure or skirt disaster. Amazon is chock full of books that pretend to tell you how to not fall off the cliff. But here’s the thing, why not embrace failure? Every single one of us has some niggling concern that we might not succeed, that we’ll have a brain aneurysm before we finish our next book or that the next book will fail so miserably people will laugh.

Every single time I face writing a new book I ask the same question—can I do this? Will I ever finish this one? What’s wrong with me? Well, nothing really. All writers and even all artists walk that thin tight rope toward failure, teetering side to side, hanging on with all our strength to the umbrella of our own giftedness, hoping it will get us across the circus tent, across the ravine to the clown car that’s waiting. Funny thing is, we climb into the clown car and the chief clown drives us right back to other side of the ravine so we can do it all again, forgetting the pain—like the pain of childbirth and actually do it all again.

I think writers love the danger of possible failure. It’s an adrenaline rush, a kind of high, the Crack we crave as we go merrily along. Writers and by nature all artists but for my purposes here and because it is my experience I will use the word Writer to represent all of us who think for some reason we are the creators, live in varying degrees of failure. The problem is that the work in progress cannot be reviewed until finished and then for the writer it’s almost too late to fully enjoy because she has already, long before the accolades, moved on to the next project and even as the awards are handed out, the praises published, is neck-high, once again in her own, persistent state of failure, in What If this is the one I never finish. She is busy battling her mental illnesses while holding the coveted trophy.

The truth is, we don’t want to finish, oh the goal is great, the awards are boffo but it’s over soon enough. The anticipation of the journey is actually more satisfying in some sick way then getting there. The trick I think is to stay on the tightrope, however much you teeter and keep moving. And, please, do not stare into the abyss of failure too long because as Nietzsche said, if you stare into the abyss too long the abyss begins staring back. You don’t want to dive into it, just be comforted that it’s there and it’s okay that it’s there—it fuels the process. It’s part of the process.


Tracy Krauss said...

Love the play on words! And I agree that often the journey and not 'getting there' are the real fun. When I finish a project, although there is a great sense of satisfaction, I'm almost immediately off to the next thing.

Joyce said...

Thanks Tracy. It's a great journey.

Renee said...

I really resonate with this post! It is really,really insane!
But I agree about the journey. I've spent so much time writing my characters, I know finishing with them may not be all the relief I think it will be. Ah, the journey...