The Romance of Failure by Chris Saper
What is the best thing about writing? To me, it’s the same as the worst thing: riding the whiplash between peril and promise. I think that’s a fairly universal experience for people whose careers – and vocations- lie in the arts, whether fine art, literary art, or performing art. And with the exception of performing arts, our worlds can remain as private as we choose, until such time we decide to share them with a potentially hostile audience. We can fail countless times, but we also have countless opportunities to pick ourselves up and keep at it until we get it almost right. Not right, as in 100% perfect right, just the best it can be at that moment. And in the process, I think that those of us who make public our good, almost right, work, have learned to respect and embrace our natures, and temperaments. For me, that lesson’s been a path to freedom. I’ve tried it the other way – and that is a certain road to frustration.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been commissioned portrait painter for almost thirty years. Several years ago, I gave the keynote address to a large gathering of artists and opened my PowerPoint with a moody black and white photo of Michael Jordan with just one word of text: FAILURE. I then recounted seeing an old Nike ad, also in black and white: Michael Jordan dribbling a basketball in an empty gym, as the only soundtrack. The text over went something like this: Michael Jordan has missed over 9,000 shots and 300 games. He was trusted to take the winning shot and missed 26 times. His words: “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
That is a confidence that is generally hard earned over many years. Trusting your own process. “I’m smarter than this stupid canvas!” “This chapter is the worst piece of crap ever written and I will delete you!” So, yep, freedom.
I roll my eyes when I see writing quotes like “I was born to write.” “Without writing, I could not breathe.” Frankly I think that for the overwhelming, and I mean the overwhelming majority of writers, that’s just a bunch of nonsense. Nothing replaces good training and just doing the work. And a lot of it. Talent? Overrated. Do I think we need some? Sure, some. But it most surely isn’t the most important factor in success. Emil Zola said this: “The artist is nothing without the gift. But the gift is nothing without the work.” I can promise you that I have been a more successful artist than scores of other painters with way more ability-but the difference has been that I have been willing to fail. Over and over again.
Fast forward to the morning that I am writing this essay. For all the bluster and self-help tropes I can blather on about, I fight a crippling insecurity – my first novel is on the eve of being launched. I’m terrified that no one will like it. That I will wake up next week to find nothing but one-star reviews, written by people who only gave it one star because there wasn’t a negative star rating option. Or even worse, that no one even bothered to write even a horrible review because they didn’t care. Could this happen? Sure. But my adventure into fiction isn’t so much about someone else’s opinion. I loved starting with a blank Word document – with nothing. And making something. Maybe Collateral Carnage will languish in obscurity. But I did the best I could and I am happy with that. And in any case, I can’t worry about what is now published, because I need to get started on the next book. And open up another beautiful, liberating, totally blank Word document. And maybe make the next book even better, because I understand the peril. It is limited and finite and it doesn’t frighten me. And because of that, only promise remains.
Connect with Chris: www.chrissaperauthor.com
Check out her book, Collateral Carnage on Amazon