“You can’t win if you don’t play,” lottery jingles tell us. The same is true with our creative pursuits. For example, with creative writing, we won’t be published if we don’t submit.
In a recent post, my friend Kate Arms Roberts posited the notion of “learning to fail better,” which she found in Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story. Kate writes about “failing” to produce something publishable, and how she can learn from that experience to produce something that is publishable.
If we wish to see our creative efforts published, we automatically fail when we don’t submit our work. But often we resist. We tell ourselves it isn’t ready yet. We anticipate rejection. It can be easier to savor the fantasy of success before submitting, rather than risk the reality of failure after submitting.
That was the case with me and a personal essay I wrote titled “The Upset Win,” about my role in emergency surgery on a pregnant cocker spaniel. I wrote the essay in January of 2011. In February of that year my friend and Writer’s Center instructor, the multi-published memoirist Sara Taber, edited it as a favor. She insisted it was publishable. Then I sat on it. For months. It wasn’t ready, I told myself.
When I finally did submit it to a handful of literary journals, the Barely South Review snatched it up, and it was published yesterday in their April issue. (The print journal is displayed in an e-reader format; my essay is on page 65 of the actual print copy, page 77 of the e-reader.)
If I were truly learning to fail better, I would have learned from this experience. But I’m not sure I have.
For the last six months I have been tweaking a book proposal that is due to my agent. It’s for my travel memoir documenting my cross-country U.S. road trip in which I interviewed artists and creatives of all stripes. Each month I write more of the book; it’s part of my graduate work in my MFA program. But the beauty of non-fiction is that one can sell the book before it’s finished. Yet I refuse, month after month, to find out if I can sell this one.
I’ve set an internal goal of completing this proposal by the end of the month. But in some respects, it likely is already done. I tweak and I tweak, but as of April 30th I will tweak no more. Seeing “The Upset Win” in print has reminded me of the importance of submitting.
Do you find yourself stalling as you approach the end of a creative project? What do you think are some of the factors that cause such paralysis?