Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On failure

Recently, I've been reading Michael Chabon's terrific collection of essays, Maps and Legends. One of the essays, "Diving into the Wreck," is about his experience of failing at writing a novel. Draft after draft, edit after edit, and it never quite came together. After slightly more than five years of trying, he abandoned the project, and wrote what became Wonder Boys.

I mention this not because I take delight in the story of a project falling apart, but because I think an important part of learning how to do something is learning how to cope with failure. Everyone who writes has stories that didn't work. Trunk stories. Sometimes those trunk stories are fixable. Someone else's sharp-eyed commentary makes clear what should have been left out, or brought in. A few small changes (or many really large ones) create the right ending. But sometimes, the story is just broken.

This happens, as far as I can tell, to all writers. No matter how much talent a person has, no matter how long an author has been writing, sometimes the story falls flat. I know I have a set of stories that just aren't. I revisit them every so often, to scavenge ideas or phrases, to see if my talent has caught up with my ambition. I look at them, and realize that they are still broken. And then I put them away. I pick up my pen, and I write something else.

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