When last we left my writing efforts, I had finished my book – Lonely Human Atoms – and was prepared, in theory, to start shipping it out to publishers and agents. I did send it to one place, but that’s it. I’ve also got more than a few short stories sitting around that could stand to be sent to someone, but only a few of them have been. It feels ridiculous to explain why that is, but I will try.
With nearly all the fiction I write, there is a point at which I feel rather proud of what I’ve put together. This usually comes after I’ve polished it up nicely and feel like it’s “finished.” I submit it or don’t, but then it sits, and the more it sits the more doubt creeps in. Inevitably, I become unsatisfied because I feel like I could have dealt with the religious theme better or been more thorough in research or condensed that one section or whatever. Never mind that I went through all of that the first seven times I revised it before I got to that moment of feeling good about what I’d done. It never stops feeling like a failure, and why would I want to send my failure out to someone?
Enter Colum McCann. I finished his book Dancer the other day and found it wonderful, as I’ve found all of his novels so far (still a few left to read). I’ve reached the point with him that I do with certain authors whose writing consistently moves me. That is, I want to know what he has to say. Correspondingly, I spent the last couple of days reading a bunch of interviews with him. In a great many, he talks about failure. Let me just excerpt one bit from him:
I’m still learning. I hope always to learn and someday write something, well, new. It goes back to the notion that you always fail. If you don’t fail in some way, then you’re in difficulty: the difficulty of sameness. I want to tack that Beckett quote up on every wall I work in front of: No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
It is difficult to explain how much better reading things like this has made me feel. This quote, in particular hits home on a number of levels. For one, most everything I’ve written is different, at least for me. So at least I’m doing something right. I wrote an early novel about a jazz musician. That book is almost certainly never going to see the light of the day, though I may totally rewrite it at some point. Then I wrote Lonely Human Atoms, which is very odd in its quiet way. Now I’m writing these interlocking short stories that, I have only recently realized, are all about me figuring out how I feel about where I come from and how to talk and write about it. All of these projects are failures because they have to be. I’m not going to get it perfect, but imperfection doesn’t make it garbage. Imperfection doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to get it out there into the world.
So that’s the goal now. I have two goals, actually, that I’m going to start on next month. One is, I want to aim for 20 polished pages of writing a month. That probably won’t happen because, well, that’s a lot, but I want something to aim for. The other is six submissions a month. I’m very bad at trying to sell myself and if I don’t give it a seemingly random number, I’m just going to get bogged down contemplating my failures and we see where that’s gotten me. the idea is send the novel to three people and send out three short stories (I certainly have plenty of those on my hard drive). All of this is a way of saying I’m going to try and take some pride in my less embarrassing failures from here on out.