Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Writing and the Fear of Failure

This is my first post as a regular contributor to this blog and I’m hesitant to start. What if I write something stupid? What if I get it all wrong and everyone laughs?

The fear of failure is a common thing amoung writers – and not just writers. 

When I visit schools, I’ve taken to showing the children a story I wrote when I was seven. 

I get the kids to tear it apart, point out all the mistakes, from spelling mistakes to the fact it’s weird and creepy and has no proper beginning, middle or end. Then I ask them, “How many of you have ever wanted to try something but you worry you you won’t be any good at it and so you don’t bother?”

Inevitably, hands go up. Always from the teachers but even from the six and seven year-olds.

One of the most challenging things is to convince children that it’s ok to write a bad story, that it’s ok to start something then abandon it. That the only time you fail is when you give up. And then I go home and stare at my latest draft in despair and wonder if I’ll ever write anything worth reading.

So, how do we as writers overcome that fear of failure, and how do we inspire young people to tell their stories, freely and joyfully, simply having fun with words? I wish I knew. In the meantime, I’ve stolen a few ideas from my friends.

 Getting it Wrong is Fun!

January is a time for resolutions and here’s a blog post from Stephanie Burgis who has resolved to do things she enjoys but is not good at.

New Year, New Discoveries

I’ve found that taking away the pressure to produce good work is a  fantastic boost to creativity. I can’t draw. I couldn’t at school and I can’t now. I’ve never learn how to translate the image in my head into lines on a page. But at the Scattered Authors’ Folly Farm retreat last December I nervously joined in a comic drawing workshop and I was soon having terrific fun making terrible stick figures.I haven’t tried drawing anything since but I think I’ll have another go soon.

 Milk Your Mistakes!

My piano teacher talks about juicy mistakes. When you play a wrong note, don’t just mutter and correct it. Pause and think about it. Why did I hit a C instead of a D? Then play about – hit lots of wrong notes as well as the right one and spot the difference in arm movement. (Warning: the neighbours might not like this!)

The same technique can apply to writing. Has my draft run aground? What’s gone wrong with it? Do I need more conflict, higher stakes, another giant octopus?  Turn ‘mistakes’ into a chance to learn.

Vacate Your Comfort Zone

If I could have a superpower, it’d be invisibility. I like to make my mistakes in secret. I’m quite happy trying new things as long as no one can see me.

And then I learned to ski. I haven’t yet been able to persuade everyone to vacate a mountain while I practise. Add to this the fact that I’m not naturally good at skiing and I had the perfect recipe for giving up and going home.

Fortunately, my stubborn streak kicked in and I stuck at it. I might not be the most graceful skier on the mountain but who cares? I don’t need to be the best at it, I just need to be good enough to get to where I’m going.

(If you look closely, you'll see a tiny dinosaur in my left pocket. This is Sir Doris, my confidence dinosaur, who travels with me. Because you can achieve anything if you have a dinosaur in your pocket.)

The comparison to writing is obvious. I’m never going to be the best author in the world, but I don’t have to be. I just need to get the draft finished.

This year, I’m going to write new things, to try new things, to learn from my mistakes. And I’m going to risk making some mistakes in public – starting with this blog. I'm looking forward to it. And, if anyone of you have any tips for overcoming the fear of failure, please do share them with me.


Rowena House said...

No mistakes there as far as I can see. Have a great experimental writing year.

Dan Metcalf said...

Excellent first post!

whispering words said...

Great post - just what I needed to hear right now :) Personally I love picking through my typos and spelling mistakes, they often make my stories so much more interesting, if a little nonsensical!

Lynne Benton said...

Like the dinosaur in your pocket - maybe we should all have one! Really interesting post - thank you.

Sue Purkiss said...

A very encouraging post - and I like the dinosaur too!

Steve Gladwin said...

Welcome Claire and thanks for your honesty. I've been doing this two years now, and somehow I get away with it! You'll be fine.

Steve Weatherill said...

Great! Impossible to learn and improve if you never make a mistake.

Penny Dolan said...

Good to see you here, Claire, and welcome. (There may be a sudden run on small plastic dinosaurs in the shops.)

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I loved the idea of taking one of your own childhood-written stories into the classroom. What a marvellous way to show young writers that we may start off weirdly (not saying yours was) but we can stick with it just for the pleasure of expressing ourselves. Really a great way to boost children's confidence. Brilliant! And welcome!

Claire Fayers said...

Thanks for the encouragement everyone. It's great to be part of this community. The first time I did a school visit I was amazed how many children were almost too scared to start writing for fear of making a mistake. I wish there was an easy way to convince them that mistakes are all part of the process.