Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Putting the Quotation Marks Around "Failure," by Chris Tebbetts

I once read an interview with Judy Blume, where she talked about the perpetual dissatisfaction she felt--and allowed herself--over the course of her early and mid-career. First came the standard form rejection letters, she said, and it made her wish for (and work for) some kind of personal note or encouragement from an editor. When those started coming, she started hoping for an acceptance and publication. As her first books rolled out, and sold at whatever level they sold, she started hoping for a bestseller, or maybe an award or two. Always, she said, it was about using whatever she'd accomplished not just as a source of satisfaction, but as a launchpad for wherever it might take her next, until eventually she became the fixture she is in the kid lit universe. 

Certainly we can torture ourselves with everything we aren’t getting done, or haven’t yet accomplished—but I also think there’s a way in which we can over-characterize those feelings and thoughts as unhelpful, unhealthy, and something to get past. In the context of what Blume had to say about it, I’m not sure I agree. Sometimes, a sense of dissatisfaction is gas in the tank, if we let it be.

This doesn’t completely align with the month’s topic, Famous Failures, but it has gotten me thinking about the ways in which writing itself, as well as navigating a career in the business, includes an element of always wanting better, and by extension, never quite getting where we want to be, creatively, professionally, or otherwise. I think the illusion is in the way we associate those thoughts as symptoms of failure. Because, as I know cognitively, if not always in my heart and my gut, if I'm not striving, I'm not evolving. And if there was a soundbite of a revelation for me in 2019 it was this: discomfort is part of evolution. 

So here’s to loving the work in 2020 and beyond, warts and all. I’ll end my last post of the decade with one of my very favorite quotes about the creative process. It comes from Ann Patchett in her essay, The Getaway Car, and it goes like this: 

    “Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time.
"Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.

    “Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”  (Ann Patchett, from The Getaway Car) 

Happy 2020, everyone! 

4 comments:

  1. This is 100% true. This time 10 years ago, I hadn't yet sold a single book. I would have jumped for joy if I'd looked 10 years down the road and seen what I'd accomplished. And yet, all I've been able to think about lately is all the stuff I HAVEN'T done. Keeps the ol' fire in the belly.

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  2. To me, much of publishing still seems random and mysterious, so every little victory is worth celebrating. thanks for reminding us that even failure isn't permanent and there is something real and good to learn form it.Happy New Year Chris.

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  3. I so needed this today, Chris, as I've been quite seriously considering chucking it all. I'm just exhausted from the effort.

    Thank you.

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  4. Thank you Chris for giving us this shake of your pompoms as we move into 2020. Evolution and growth are both within our grasp and beautiful aspects of being a creator. Here's to continued reframing and expansion in the new year!

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