Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In defense of the error.

I've been thinking about something that keeps coming up on the writing board I frequent. And really, it comes up everywhere when you have people trying to learn a new craft. It's a question about methods and techniques, one that comes in many, many forms but still boils down to one simple question:

What if I do it wrong?

Well, what if you do?

In fact, you probably will. You're going to screw it up royally. You're going to butcher it, burn it, break it, bust it, and pretty much fuck it up something awful.

You will then learn from your mistakes, salvage what you can, and move on.

That's not to say the only way to learn is the hard way. You don't have to make every mistake to learn from them. (Remember...some people exist only to serve as a warning to others...learn from their mistakes whenever possible)

What I'm addressing is the crippling fear of failure that keeps people from sticking their necks out. It scares them out of taking risk, and it isn't just beginners, either. Sometimes it's experienced writers (or painters, or what have you) who want to push the envelope a bit. They know all the rules, but how far can they bend those rules?

Is it okay to write in first person from multiple points of view (POV)?
Can I write from the POV of the opposite gender?
Can I use [overused trope], but combine it with [cliche'] and a dash of [something new] to make it fresh?
Can I have four completely unrelated story lines weave together in a startling way to make poignant comment about the human condition?

The answer is: Yes.

Will you succeed? Will you make it work? Will it be publishable? Hell if I know. But it'll stand a better chance of getting published than the blank pages currently sitting in your printer with no ink on them. You won't know until you try.

Yes, I've ranted about this subject before, but I think it's something that bears repeating. You have to take risks if you want to master a craft. Taking risks means screwing up. Show me someone who's never made a colossal mistake, and I'll show you someone who's never created a masterpiece.

If you don't try, you are 100% guaranteed to fail.

If you do try, you may still fail, but any gambler will tell you that those odds are decidedly better than the other option. Sure, if you don't put any money on the table, you won't lose anything when the roulette wheel stops. But wouldn't you feel like an ass if you thought "Hmm, I should put money on Black 17", but you didn't put that five dollar chip down, and the wheel stopped on Black 17? (Don't laugh...that happened to me at a roulette table once.)

Anyway. You don't have much to lose by trying. What? You thought I was going to say you have nothing to lose? Pfft. Anything worth gaining requires giving something up, even if it's just a little sweat off your brow or a few hours at the keyboard. For a book? Some time, a few sleepless nights if you're like me, some toner, a little space on your hard drive. The book you write may be a tome of epic failure comparable to my own failtastic Sins of the Failure (trust me, that's bad), worthy of nothing more than violent and judicious application of the "delete" key and paper shredder. If the book isn't a total loss, then maybe it can be salvaged with some more time, some more toner, and some more space. What has been written can always be rewritten.

But whether the book is salvageable or should be killed with fire, you will have learned something from it, even if it's something as simple as "that doesn't work." You will apply that knowledge to your next book. And the one after. And the one after that.

In short, writing - like any craft - is learned through trial and error. This means that in order to learn the craft, you have to have the balls to try things and the intestinal fortitude to err, err, and err again. So what if you do it wrong? As long as you learn from it, it's not failure, it's education.

Quoth Thomas Edison:
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

And again:
"I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

He makes some good points. And I'm told he actually, like, did some important stuff. So he's probably worth listening to.

In the meantime, stop worrying about screwing up. Your time is better spent screwing up and learning from it.

Failing that, you could do worse than spending time looking at Jeff Goldblum in a tank top.

No comments:

Post a Comment