Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Jumping Over Failure

I once heard a quote from a high-jumper. I don't know who or where, but she said that the high jump was the only event in which you always ended with failure. In any given meet, the bar keeps getting pushed higher and higher and higher until you finally fail. You never quit at seven feet and say, "I'd like to stop now. I think this is the best I can do."

No. You keep jumping, you keep stretching, you keep giving it your all until that bar bounces on the pavement, marking your failure.

I wonder how they feel about that sound.

If that's not a sport to teach mental toughness, I don't know what is. Fighting against our self-doubts, self-limitations, and fears of failure are the hardest part of achieving anything. I am my own worst enemy when I'm pushing myself to succeed. I impose limitations and can'ts, and, worst of all, a fear of failure. With the big N coming up, little fears keep niggling at my ear. I keep laughing at them but they're still there.

To push myself, I've decided to try Candace Havens' Fast Draft class: a manuscript in 14 days, starting January 10. My all-time high is 40,000 in ten days, but I suppose that's not that fast, since I wasn't day-jobbing that week. Among the phrases I'm hearing in my head are:

  • A novel is a new form. You should read and study more of them, before attempting to write one. Why don't you take a couple weeks before you start your novel and read one a day?
  • If you wrote another couple novellas before writing the novel, you'd have a nice little buffer for any financial emergencies.
  • You know, maybe you could write a couple stories, just to make a little extra spending money. Buy some new clothes; get a haircut. You know, if you wrote two novellas now and put the money in a CD, there'd be no way that money would get spent and you'd definitely have enough to go to the RWA Conference this year.

Get the idea? All day! I'm wandering around, and these little doubts jump up. I'm getting better at recognizing them and laughing at them, thank goodness.

But I've been listening to myself express my self-doubts and worries, and I realized that I fear writing a novel and falling flat on my face. Well, is that so bad? So I write a novel and it doesn't sell. I've become one step closer to understanding the structure of the longer form. A failure? No way. Just one more step on the path.

When I worry about failure, I always think of the high jumpers who keep jumping and keep striving until they fail. Every damn day, they fail.

Wow.

I'd like to meet an Olympic gold-medalist high-jumper some day. My new motto?

If you're not failing, then you're not jumping high enough.

13 bonus scribbles:

Jude Hardin 1/04/2007 08:49:00 AM  

Spy,

I love your comparison of writers to high jumpers. Exactly right. We're always trying to do better than last time, no matter our level of success.

Great post!

Bernita 1/04/2007 09:01:00 AM  

Hmmm, a good image.
Perhaps I should replace my brick wall with a pole.

lainey bancroft 1/04/2007 10:15:00 AM  

Ah yes...raise the bar.

Excellent analogy, Spy!

I'm going to add it to my list.

spyscribbler 1/04/2007 10:19:00 AM  

So true, Jude.

Funny, Bernita! Or just launch right over it. :-)

Thanks, Lainey! It's been in my mind for awhile now, ever since I heard that quote.

Avery,  1/04/2007 10:45:00 AM  

I'm not one to preach the salability of a novel; mine hasn't gone through my own rounds of final drafts, yet. But, the writing of one is easier than it looks. The self-doubt is the worst. Just tell that voice to shut up and then plunge in. You'll be shocked when you get to chapter three, pleased when you get to five, and by ten you'll be telling yourself you're so far into it, there's no way you'll be going back.

Go for it, and good luck.

spyscribbler 1/04/2007 11:39:00 AM  

Thanks, Avery. I've been writing novellas for so long, that I'm afraid that I'm going to get to 40,000, and my story will be done. Complete. And then what? Eek!

writtenwyrdd 1/04/2007 05:06:00 PM  

That's a great comparison. Also, thanks for the link to Candace's yahoo.group. I think I'll try it, too.

Avery DeBow 1/04/2007 05:55:00 PM  

I wouldn't worry about it. So much can be done to expand an existing story. Side-stories that advance characters can be inserted, non-POV characters can be made into POV characters.

I have the exact opposite problem. I'm trying to wrestle my monster into something that's under its current 200,000 word count. So, I guess if you're ever in dire need, you can borrow some of my excessive wordiness.

spyscribbler 1/04/2007 06:45:00 PM  

Oh wow, Avery! That's amazing. I don't have that gene, LOL. (Oh! That's a self-limiting statement, isn't it?)

Wordiness is definitely a challenge for me. (In fiction. I seem to let it all out on the blog, LOL.)

Christina Rundle 1/05/2007 02:21:00 AM  

I wanted to go to the RWA this year too, until a friend told me how much it would cost. I'm gasping as we speak. Doesn't sound logical at the moment. I'm not working while I try to finish my degree and on top of that, I'll have school. With these classes, I'm to afraid to miss them. I'm going to be one of those people finding the websites to the people who did go and look at their pictures. See, I'm a writer with extended resources. lol.

40,000 words in a week sound like 1. No Sleep and 2. Lots of coffee or tea.

Good luck with that. Avery is right, extend POV if you have too. I did that and got almost 30,000 in two weeks. Still going to be a lot of work, but you can do it. Like you said, no self defeating words!

Brett Battles 1/05/2007 02:43:00 PM  

Write it.

Sure, you're going to worry, but write it.

I finish four novels before I final sold a novel (the thrid I'd written.) I'm glad I had two novels before it that didn't sell. I learned so much from writing those. Maybe the most important thing...that I COULD write a novel. (BTW, the fourth novel I hope to sell someday, I just haven't tried as I'm now in series land with THE CLEANER.)

Write. If it doesn't sell...so what. Write another one.

Write.

The Dark Scribe 1/05/2007 04:06:00 PM  

Good luck!

I'm rooting for you. It's a huge committment, but a worthy one.

I agree with your comment about high-jumping, too. Keep pushing that bar higher. The great thing about writing is that we all start out as failures, so there's really nothing to lose as we inch that bar up another notch.

Best of luck!

spyscribbler 1/05/2007 09:19:00 PM  

Wow, thanks guys! You're right, Brett. I've never just written something, just to write it.

And Christina, thanks. I can't extend POV, but I can give more thought to my sub-plots. I think that's going to be key.

We'll get there!