I am coming around to the idea of failing. The last time I thought about it, I was sidetracked by my realization of just how bad my current novel is. Hasty, unfulfilling second acts, eye-shutting vistas, sludgy plots, and crudely-drawn characters who look like they were sketched with a crayon. It’s not the worse thing ever but I wouldn’t be proud to see it on a library shelf with my name on it.
But, I am getting my mind around the idea that a bad fifth draft has value, anyway. It doesn’t just have a lot to teach me about my flaws as a writer and storyteller, or about how much I have to learn and improve to become the writer I want to be – just to get It in acceptable shape for even casual readers.
It has value beyond that.
I read or heard it somewhere. Every bad day of writing pays for the good days. Every bad day of writing is like deposit, like a check towards paying for the one good day.
I was taught, and I believed, that the good writing days paid for the bad ones. That every good day of writing, every trip to the magical Zone of sparkling one-draft prose was payment (in full) for all the crappy days that preceded it: all the blank pages and computer screens, all the dead prose, all the Trying, all the Almost, and, in particular, all the failing.
But, this new thought reverses that belief. Every bad day, it suggests, is like a voucher, or a check. It has a specific amount on it and you place it – the bad writing, the doubts, the fear – with the other Bad Days, until enough of them have accumulated and, hey presto, paid for a Good Day. The bad days are payment for the Good Days.
Bad writing days have value, in and of themselves. Every one we endure, every word we write or delete, every time we perform the act or writing, of trying, we are earning the good days, sentences, phrases, and lines that follow. It makes sense – if we don’t push through the bad days (if we quit), we will never get to the good days that create our body of work.
Athletes, dancers (think Fame) pay in “blood, sweat, and tears”. So do we and it’s romantic and wishful to believe in success without failure, that we can achieve any good thing without a cost, .