There’s an old adage among authors: “You can’t edit a blank page.”
It’s advice I took to heart when I found myself spinning my wheels with Protocol. After months of slogging through a sea of nouns and verbs, I had an embarrassing number of pages. When I told a bestselling romance novelist with whom I’m acquainted how long I’d been writing and how many (okay, how few) words I had, she looked at me and said, “Quit fannying about and write.”
Okay, maybe she didn’t say “fannying about” and maybe I’ve seen Bridget Jones’s Diary too many times. But she did give me some tough love and a homework assignment: write 1,000 words a day, come hell or Dateline marathons.
So I did.
The upshot was that her advice allowed me to finish my book rather than edit the same sentence again and again (and again). But there was another, perhaps more lasting benefit: it gave me permission to make mistakes.
Once liberated from the prison of my internal editor, I was able to not only write more quickly but take more risks. Write from multiple character viewpoints? Why not. Try an unusual plot twist? Don’t mind if I do.
This freedom wasn’t just confined to the page. I began to take chances in life, to see the unfamiliar as opportunity rather than boogeyman, to consider failure as a precursor to success.
That, of course, was the bigger lesson.
The truth is, I've spent a lot of my life being afraid. Afraid of not measuring up. Afraid of doing something wrong. Afraid of not being enough.
Moving forward with less perfectionism and fewer self-limitations has allowed me to move past some of this trepidation and anxiety.
There are plenty of axioms about overcoming the inertia that is fear of failure. (See Gretzky’s “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”) But my favorite is Dan Wieden’s:
Co-founder of famed ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, Dan Wieden is an icon of advertising and the messiah of copywriters. So it makes sense that someone who cut her teeth writing ads would be drawn to his words of wisdom. But my affinity for his mantra is about more than ad guru worship. It’s born from unwavering belief that he’s right.
Failing harder was how I went from working at a job I didn't love in education to writing for a living.
Failing harder was how I went from fearing the blank page to writing my first novel.
Failing harder was how I trudged through the slush pile to find representation and then a home for Protocol.
Failing harder means trying harder. Putting yourself out there. Making mistakes, learning from them, then dusting yourself off and doing it all over again.
Life is a draft. It’s meant to be messy, incomplete, the start of something that will improve with time. More than ever, I try to approach life like I approach my writing: with more courage, less internal criticism and a willingness to try new things that will lead me to places I’d never dreamed of going.
What have you failed harder at? A new skill at work? A new hobby at home? Knowing whether you’re supposed to tuck your jeans into your boots?
Whatever it is, please share. Life is a draft we’re all writing together.