Friday, 23 May 2014

The F word: Failure Maeve Friel

This weekend Children´s Books Ireland are holding their  24th annual conference at the Light House Cinema in Dublin with a glittering array of national and international speakers. It will kick off with the inaugural address of the new Irish Children´s Laureate, Laureate na nóg, Eoin Colfer. The conference has always been a stimulating and inspiring and fun highlight  of the year for writers, illustrators, booksellers, teachers, librarians and all lovers of children´s literature.

This year the chosen theme, the F word: Failure - is intriguing. The programme says they are inviting writers “to reflect on the times in their careers where things have fallen apart, deadlines went out the window and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.” What do you do when you are turned down by agent after agent? How do you get past the fear of failure?  How do you keep going if your books are no longer finding a publisher (perhaps after years of regular commissions)? And how do you find the true grit and determination to turn the failures into triumphs, to keep going when no one actually has asked you to write in the first place?  Will a book award pave the way automatically to a successful and lasting career? No doubt there will be many thoughtful discussions and a lot of laughs too. I am terribly sorry that I am so “scattered” that I will not be there.

At times when my work in progress gets stuck  or I am failing to meet a deadline, I sometimes look to the wisdom of other writers and the many lists of tips and advice out there. But the one I find the wisest and the most entertaining is Anne Lamont´s timeless advice in her book “Bird by Bird”:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Bird by bird – that´s the way to do it. Just write the next sentence and carry on until you have finished. 


Linda Strachan said...

Such good advice. Those who don't write often seem to fail to understand how precarious a working life being a writer can be.

At first glance it might be thought that a conference focusing on failure is a terrible idea but in reality coping with the ups and downs of a writing career is something we all need to learn how to do, without losing heart.
It is great to have the support of knowing others have been down that road and returned successful and gives you the heart to pick yourself up and get back to the words when things are tough.
We live in our words and it is important, regardless of the vagaries of the marketplace.

Joan Lennon said...

Bird by bird. Bird by bird. A wonderful new mantra - thank you so much!

Penny Dolan said...

Brave topic for a conference - and good to hear about an event in Dublin, Maeve. It's good to be reminded of the "bird by bird" mantra, too.

Lovely to hear about the current Laureate, as well. Thanks.

Maeve Friel said...

Bird by bird - isn't it just perfect!
By the way, the conference may be about aspects of failure but is assuredly not going to be a failure - with a stellar list of speakers and attendees, it is always a brilliant weekend.

Nick Green said...

It is this cat's mantra too.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Maeve, while at the conference I considered blogging about it when it was my turn but you have got there first! The conference was wonderful -- in my opinion, one of the best CBI conferences ever, and many people around me seemed to agree. All the speakers adhered to the theme (this doesn't always happen), and it made for some very honest and refreshing discussions. It was perhaps a very writer-friendly conference, as it lent itself to writers talking about their craft. I don't know if it was as a result of the theme, but on the train home I came up with a whole novel outline. I may FAIL to do anything about it, of course.