Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Forget about failure

I had an epiphany this past weekend as I walked desolately out of Croke Park Stadium (the headquarters of Gaelic Football in Ireland) with a strained voicebox, tear streaked cheeks and a very heavy heart. I had just endured an agonising game of football watching my home county (Kildare) suffer a heartbreaking defeat by 13 points to a superior Cork team.

For those of you planning on clicking away once the word football has been mentioned, I promise this post is still about writing, just bear with me!

A sea of white jerseys engulfed me as we marched out the gates of the Cusack Stand, the routine, expletive-laden post match dissection being the only conversation emerging from our lips. We all had our say as to what went wrong, who played badly, who let the side down and where we could go from here. But that familiar sense of hopelessness and despair hung ominously between us in the air, like the stench of a stale beer fart at 3am in a nightclub; the one that no one wants to claim ownership of.

The majority of my 24 years on this planet has been spent cheering on Kildare (my home county) in the All Ireland Gaelic football championship, a championship that they have not won since 1928 so as you can imagine I've experienced a vast amount of heartbreak, disappointment, desolation, tears and anger. My father and my father's father have also experienced these feelings of dejection as have most of the people who live within Kildare. Yet we continue to cheer them on in our droves, year after year, success or failure.

I'm very familiar with the concept of failure as a writer because it terrifies me to my very core. In fact I'll be honest, much of the reason that I struggle to write my novel is because after I write a sentence/paragraph/chapter that I'm happy with, my automatic response is "well it's never going to be published so why bother being happy with this? In fact why bother writing any more?" And before I know it, the laptop is powered off and I'm in the sitting room eating chocolate and guiltily watching episodes of ER, Sex and the City and Friends to the point that I'm miming entire chunks of dialogue along with the cast (although seeing as Carrie Bradshaw is a writer, SATC technically counts as writing practice... Right?)

It's a sad way to be because the fear of failure actually deters me from writing. I can fully picture myself having the completed manuscript of my book (whenever it's finished!) locked in a drawer in my desk because I'll be too terrified at the thoughts of rejection and failure to send it to an agent. Ah yes, the fear of rejection reared its ugly head in puberty and has decided to park itself there for the remainder of my life.

But I ultimately have to face up to the fact that failure is a big part of a writers life. Just like it is for a football team and their legion of loyal fans.

Charlie Chaplin said "it takes courage to make a fool of yourself".  I certainly don't consider those players as having made fools of themselves but the courage it takes to expose yourself and represent your county in front of a crowd of nearly 60,000 people with no room for mistakes is fully blown awe-inspiring, never mind courageous.

So how is it that these players can put their dignity, health and heart on the line in front of crowds of people every week in front of people who are just waiting to criticise their talent and point out their mistakes and yet here I am, terrified to send my (unfinished) novel to an agent at the fear of being laughed at by one little person hiding behind their desk (Jesus, I really hope no potential agents are reading this blog...). These footballers leave themselves wide open to critiquing en masse and even when they fail, they pick themselves up, regroup and move on to the next game.

It's been said that "A man's greatest glory doesn't consist in never falling, but in rising every time he falls". To be honest that quote (like so many other quotes that I feel I'm supposed to take inspiration from) never really appealed to me because I've always found it difficult to see the positive in negative situations. Yes, I'm an eternal glass half empty type.

But after this weekend's outing in Croke Park, something shifted for me. Why is failure something to be feared? If you can stare down the barrel of the gun, face failure full on, take the risk and make the leap of faith, you've already showed more courage than many people will in their lifetime. And if you've faced that much fear and uncertainty, why would there be a problem in brushing yourself off and rising up if you fall? And besides how can we truly savour and enjoy the long awaited feeling of success if we haven't experienced the very depths of failure?

Go for it, take the plunge, aim for that point, write that chapter, make that call. I wrote this blog after the match (and it's been over a month since my last blog post) because I felt inspired, a feeling that I hadn't felt in a while. And for the first time I don't care if no one reads it apart from me. I don't care if it's voted "Worst Blog Post in the History of Writing Ever". Well, actually, that might sting a little, but who cares - I did it, I wrote it and I pressed publish and made it public.

So with that in mind I'll hang up my white jersey until early next year when I'll wear it with pride supporting the lads again, rain or hail, success or failure because that's what life is about. And the minute I put the final full stop to the final sentence of my manuscript, you can bet that it'll be sent directly to a litany of agents and publishers. And if it doesn't get picked up, I'll persevere and persist and I'm making a promise to myself now to never give up on that.

Life is for taking chances. Who cares if we fail? At least if we have a goal, an aim, a higher place to aspire to, then the only way to go is up.

11 comments:

  1. yes the next kildare game is only 5 months away...cant wait

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  2. I don't know much about soccer or football :) but I do know my share of fearing failure as a writer. I just finished my first manuscript this past weekend and many days it was a struggle to type because I feared the writing on the page would never match the story in my heart.

    But, I read somewhere You can't edit a blank page and also there is no such thing as good writing only good Re-writing. So, therefore I persisted.

    When I start revising, hopefully I will be able to sculpt the shotty words into the story I know it can be. But, that's from telling fear and perfectionism to Eff Off!!

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    1. "You can't edit a blank page" i love that Laura!

      Persistance is difficult but I'm really trying at the moment. Even if i only get a few paragrahs done on a bad day it's better than nothing... :)

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  3. I wonder if you spoke to Johnny Doyle and asked him if he'd ever kick a football again, what would his answer be? I suspect that he would say that he'll pick himself up, dust himself and his lily white shirt off and play again. Would any of the lilywhite fans call him a failure? (I can hear the roar of "no" from here :-))

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    1. Haha thanks Mary, sure Johnny is a Kildare national treasure at this stage; I wouldnt be surprised if they erected a statue of him in Allenwood or Conleths Park at this stage.

      He's definitely an inspiration - I have a picture of me with him pinned up above my desk for inspiration on slow days! Wonder what he would think of that?? ;)

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  4. Another excellent blog!

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    1. Thanks anonymous poster, although I have a feeling I know who you are... ;)

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  5. You are not alone in your feelings about writing - the thought "is it all worth it" when you fear that agents and publishers may not want it. But you have two great assets - you are young and you WANT to write. Believe me, these are assets

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    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement Margaret :)

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  6. Im sure you are familiar with the great author, Elmore Leonard, now regarded as the greatest living american writer? well, Leonards debut novel was rejected something like 48 times. I'm sure if you were to talk to Mr. Leonard, he would tell you not to worry about rejection!! i know it's easier said than done but i'd keep that example in mind if i were you!! keep up the good work!!

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