But it’s important.
But it sucks.
I write short stories, and every so often I go through a brief phase of submitting them to a few professional markets. I’ve started getting quite good at being rejected. It’s something I seem to have a real knack for, in fact, when I apply myself.
Anyone with even a modicum of professional writing experience in any comparable field will tell you that rejection is an important part of the process, even a positive part. And of course they’re right. If you’re getting rejected, it means you’re putting yourself out there, and if it keeps happening, it means you’re demonstrating the kind of persistence which sometimes gets rewarded with success. Ploughing on through the “no”s is a crucial part of making it to your first “yes”.
Harry Potter was turned down by I can’t be bothered to look up how many publishers before Rowling sold her first novel, Edison proudly discovered ten thousand ways not to plagiarise the lightbulb, you get the idea. Failing means you’re on the right track. It’s kinda obvious, but can be difficult to take on board.
It’s a philosophy I’ve repeated many times, and embraced in theory, but I’ve not really examined how well I do at it in practice. How much do my instinctive thoughts and reactions, in the moment, actually match up with the ideal?
The particular example of writing rejections doesn’t cause me too much neurotic stress. But some kinds of perceived failure have a much greater tendency to rankle. Sometimes getting it wrong really doesn’t feel like useful progress.
One of my problems seems to be with an unhelpful aversion to wasting my time. For instance: I’ve been trying to untangle and organise the plotting for a mostly second-drafted novel lately. (The one about a zombie and a vampire who run a detective agency, of which I bashed out a first draft a couple of NaNoWriMos ago, if you’re interested.) One thing I’ve done this week, in an effort to organise all the chapters, is to print out a series of short scene descriptions onto small bits of paper, and to blu-tack them to a whiteboard, so as to arrange them into some sort of coherent narrative.
This may all have been a colossal waste of time.
I’m still getting confused over what makes narrative sense to happen when. It hasn’t instantly resolved any of my structural or pacing issues. I’m not sure it’s going to be of any more help keeping track of future changes than the notes I’d already made on the computer. It looks pretty, I suppose, and it’s all neatly colour-coded, but I’ve a suspicion that may all be a load of toss.
This isn’t one of those times when I’m using pointless distractions to avoid actually writing, and really I just need to just sit down and get the fuck on with it. I do need to do something to figure out the sodding structure of the thing, and just staring at walls of text doesn’t seem to be helping. Sticking notes to a board is as valid a way of having a go as any other. But it still really bugs me that it might not have been a useful way to go.
I’m finding it especially hard to put the whole “failure as a learning experience” idea into practice in this particular scenario. It just feels like I put in some effort and made zero progress anywhere, and this is deeply infuriating and off-putting.
What’s really ridiculous, though, is the way I keep falling back on the worst coping strategy ever.
It’s taken me a while to even get as far as the whiteboard, because rather than struggle with something that seems likely to end in failure – rather than even contemplate it seriously, sometimes – I’ll just do something else that isn’t even meant to be productive. Those same minutes I’m worrying about wasting on some pointless wall-chart writing aid, turn into half an hour on Kongregate, or watching TV, or something else equally passive.
This way, I don’t just risk getting nothing useful achieved with my time, I guarantee it. But I won’t get that feeling of having strived for something and then failed to achieve an immediately measurable result. So it feels like less of a loss.
You can see exactly what my brain’s doing. It’s trying to avoid that feeling of having wasted time doing something that failed. It wants to protect itself so much from that unpleasant sensation, that distractions which fail to achieve any of my goals become acceptable. Which is colossally unhelpful of it. I mean, this is not-opening-bank-statements level thinking. It’s lamentable.
And it’s going to take some serious practice before I get over it.