Monday, November 28, 2011

Making and the Big Pile O' Fail

One of the deep ironies of being a maker is that even though the word, "make," implies a successful outcome, we actually spend most of our time hip-deep in failure.

In a recent guest post on inspiration, author Sara Zarr said:
"I’m inspired by failure.

"Which is a good thing, because right now I’ve got a first draft of a new book in front of me, and it feels like a massive pile of FAIL. (I should note: this is my book.)"
Insofar as writing goes, no one aside from haters would call Sara Zarr, an award-winning author who recently published her fourth book, a failure. In fact, once you break in to the national market, you're a success right? How can someone as accomplished as Sara have a manuscript that "feels like a massive pile of FAIL?"

A failure, in structural terms, is simply a gap between intent and outcome. It is not a sign of moral weakness or a personal indictment in and of itself. A consistent gap between intent and outcome may be symptomatic of other problems, but we're talking about the failure that is part and parcel of learning, making, and living--all of which involve trying, failing, and trying again

Do those try/fail cycles sound like story theory?

It's no accident. Much of our social experience as humans comes down to encouraging others--or being encouraged by them--to deal with failure. Have you ever sat down with a child who tried something once, failed, and declared they would never be able to do it?

The challenge is that  as the scope of our intent increases so too does the scope for our failure. NaNoWiMo celebrates the the accomplishment of amassing 50,000 more or less coherent words in a month. If, however, your ambition is a finished novel, those words must all be coherent and build to something that is more than the sum of the parts. And if you want people to give you money for those words, there are more and increasingly ineffable requirements.

Put another way, the greater your ambition, the greater the gap between your first efforts and your ultimate attempt will be. Part of the wisdom of making is to understand that this gap is natural. It's why the first Law of Making, "Love is the foundation of true making," includes the ability to forgive the work while it fails to live up to your expectations. 

Sara concludes her post with this thought:
"Today, I’m looking at my draft and its large and small failures, and I know: if everyone I admire and respect, everyone whose work has endured for more than five minutes, everyone who has come out with something beautiful, has struggled in this same, frightening gap, I must be on the right track."

Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net