I’ve been focusing on my writing. I have it in my head to see if there’s maybe a novel in there somewhere, so my laptop and I have become one as we wait to see if anything worth anything comes out.
So far that’s mostly meant staring at a blank page. Except for those moments where I’m deleting the horrible few and far between paragraphs I actually manage to write.
It’s pretty frustrating. I’m blazing a trail straight to failure as fast as I can. But I think that’s the trick.
Last week I found a book called Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, at my favorite used bookstore. It’s about the challenges of creativity and how to get out of your own way so you can make it happen. It seemed like the book I should be reading, and there’s a story in it I can’t stop thinking about.
A pottery teacher told his students he was splitting their class in half. At the end of the semester, he’d grade one half on quantity—the more pots a student made, the higher his or her grade. The other half would be graded on quality and had to submit just one pot—their best and most perfect—for their final grade.
You know what? At the end of the semester, the group told to make as many pieces as they could produced the most beautiful work by far. Because they spent their time cranking out pot after pot and screwing things up all the way. The other group just focused on being perfect from the get-go and pretty much got nowhere. They didn’t make the mistakes that made the difference and showed them the way.
We shouldn’t be afraid of failing. We should be excited about it. Learning the things that only failure teaches is the only way to get somewhere good. We have to learn to stumble before we figure out how to walk, and that makes falling flat on our faces the best way to finally soar.