Confronting failure

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I’m afraid of failure. Terrified, paralysed, so crippled by its looming possibility that too often it has been easier to simply not try, as if by doing this I can convince myself, well I might have succeeded, I’ll never really know. It never feels quite as comforting as I hope it will and it most certainly doesn’t actually get me anywhere. And now, once again I find myself stuck. My last experience with an agent was so bewildering, for all it was quite encouraging, that I have been unable to bring myself to query. It’s why I have not written for over a year, it’s why I am writing this blog rather than spending every waking minute polishing and posting submissions.

Its not just my fear, it’s not just a consideration for those who want to be published, failure is a part of every success story ever read, written or forgotten. It’s the most basic, most fundamental part of achievement; without it we would never have advanced beyond grunting and scrubbing about in the mud. Our very DNA might be hypothesised to be the result of failure, every evolutionary leap a matter of something going wrong. And yet, we rarely talk about it, and when we do, it is offered as consolation, the happy cloak of denial for the losers out there. Maybe I should say ‘us losers out here’..

Enid Blyton papered her study in rejections; William Golding’s Pulitzer prize winning (and deservedly in my humble) was dismissed as a strange dull little tale; Joyce had to self-publish (again deservedly in my humble). But maybe I shouldn’t put those opinions in parentheses because other people’s perceptions might just be the sweaty box wherein fear breeds, mine certainly.

A publisher just outed herself as rejecting JK Rowling’s new manuscript, deservedly in many people’s not-so-humbles. It was, she owned, perfectly decent, she just ‘didn’t love it’. I wonder if that’s the root that sprouts fear, not the hard work that might be required, not the time lost or the sweat expired, but the realisation that someone out there might not love us.

They might laugh, ridicule us. They might pity our poor attempts at adverbial eloquence while not so secretly feeling immensely smug they aren’t nearly as pathetic. They might.. oh they might say, ‘too weird for me mate. Dunno what this one is on’.. oh why did I reveal my Achilles? With one line everyone knows exactly how to bring me down.

I was recently accused of being afraid of success, after I achieved a small measure of it and found myself twisted up in what ifs… oh and but’s, big, big buts. I don’t even know what might follow them, but I was sure they were there looming just out of sight at the end of, well done, I liked it, I’m interested… there had to be buts. It felt daft, daft to be afraid, daft to be told it was success giving me the heebies.. But what is success except a larger stage on which to trip? The opportunity for more people to tell you they don’t love you? And won’t it hurt so much more if they first tell you they do..?

I had a boyfriend like that. His love spun on one long weekend, an idyllic sun soaked one. I am still tempted to blame sunstroke. He could be out there pining, wishing I hadn’t lost my mobile in Australia…

I’m not so self-delusional I haven’t figured this out before. The fear of failure part at least and I have been doing my determined best.. with the occasional breaks to huddle in my shell and eat too many Chomps… It’s not fun being afraid. I am a perfectionist I admit, and an odd one I also admit. I gave up on the skinnies trend and I refuse to watch Big Brother, even if it means I have no idea what everyone is talking about. I wish the hill was that small, but my oddities are too many and I’m honest enough to admit, that’s just dancing round the fringes. It isn’t near to touching the true heart of failure, failure in the one thing I have ever really cared about. Writing is me, if I have a soul it pumps ink; I cannot relinquish my beloved, instead I hoard it in drawers and password locked drives, unwilling to let others sully it. Because when I do..

‘Where I Begin’ was rejected. It was rejected by someone who liked it, who told me to fine tune the second half with an agents help. But I cannot return to it. ‘Where I Begin’ was where it ended. I don’t know if she was right or wrong, a little or a lot, I know only her opinion sits in front of my eyes like an ash tinted lens. Every niggling little line, every not quite perfect scene waiting to be tweaked, every uncertainty is now made certain: Certain it is ruined.

In the past I never quite could grasp the distinction between accepting failure and braving failure. For me such a dreaded task feels like an act that deserves to result in success. And when it doesn’t it sends me diving headlong back into my shell, my sense of inadequacy reinforced a thousand times stronger than before. Still I keep peeking back out.

Now I’ve got as far as realising you cannot avoid it; I just need to figure out how you don’t let it destroy. But I’m willing to accept the consolation offer, I’m putting on my cloak of denial. One man’s guru is another man’s idiot. One decade’s shameful history is another decade’s recycled glory. I can’t find anyone who likes – or admits to it anyway – Jeremy Clarkson, yet the man has spent decades in a job where the only credential is that you are liked.

There is nothing that hurts more and matters less than opinion. Nothing more cheaply bought that should be priceless. Perhaps the key to surviving the run of them is to hold your own above all others. Arrogant? Not really, they’re just opinions. It doesn’t matter how laughably uncool Chesney Hawkes is considered to be, when The One and Only comes on the radio I crank it up and warble at the top of my lungs. If I can feel the joy behind the mole perhaps I can see past my own image.

When I first started writing I heard the voices of rejection past, present and future, really? just cause it interests you, ya weirdo…. They nearly ruined a perfectly good story, but I persevered and finally now in the millionth edit its coming close to what I want it to be. Once I finally stopped chickening out of being me, I found my voice. It’s still not published and in many ways I have moved far beyond it as a writer, but I will finish it, and I will love it for what it taught me. That other cornerstone of success is perseverance, but you cannot persevere without accepting failure. I must fail. I cannot avoid it any longer and I cannot make it not hurt. It will sting like every other slap in the face, cold shoulder, pointing finger and cruel mocking laugh. So how do you deal with rejection?

I tell myself I would rather be loved by one as me, than by many as someone else. I repeat it like a writer’s prayer.

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