The Constant Fear of Failure

February 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

I have to admit that my last blog post on the difference between book lovers and bibliophiles was arrogant and shallow. But we all are arrogant and shallow from time to time, aren’t we? Anyway, in order to make up for it, today’s post is way humbler. Today’s post is about failure, or about my failure, to be more specific.

One of the first posts on this blog was about my plans to write and it was boldly titled “The day I started writing”. I could as well have named it “The day I stopped writing” because my writing career was over before it even began. I wanted to write at least two pages of fiction every week which worked pretty well for exactly one week. What was it that made me stop trying? The exact same thing that has made me stop trying so many things, from knitting to taekwondo. The constant fear of failure.

As a literature enthusiast (or a bibliophile, or a book lover), I’m a very critical reader. I examine every single book that I read closely and carefully and I pay a lot of attention to detail. One could say that this makes reading a tedious activity, and yes, sometimes reading is work, not pleasure. I tend to detect tiny flaws, inconsistencies and bad style even in my favourite books or in books that I consider very well-written in general. On the other hand, I know that my own attempts at fiction are way worse, full of errors and nothing but baby steps.

I have two possibilities: either I try very hard and I just write and revise everything until I’m more or less satisfied, or I expect so much of myself right from the beginning that no matter how often I revise a sentence, I’ll only see the bad parts of it. The first method would be the sensible thing to do, but I tend to go for the second one. This not only applies to fiction writing, but also to academic papers – I want them to be perfect and I spend hours on tiny style details that probably don’t matter anyway.

How did the great writers start writing? Did they just sit down and casually jot down their first novel? Or did they plan it carefully, making several drafts before they actually start writing the first sentence? Probably there are as many approaches to writing as there are authors, and some of them share their method with the world, claiming it’s the best. Some authors write so many novels that I can’t imagine them putting a lot of effort into them, and yet they’re good. Some authors write novels so carefully that you can sense their insecurity, their self-consciousness in every sentence, and yet their novels are good too. There’s no magic potion for writing.

Speaking about the first kind of author, Chuck Palahniuk has just announced three new books for 2013, 2014 and 2015. He seems to pop out novels like Irish women pop out babies. What’s his secret? According to his page, the 2015 book is ‘merely’ a collection of short stories, most of which have already been published. I used quotation marks here because I don’t even manage to complete a single short story whereas he just offhandedly publishes a whole lot of them every year. About his 2014 book, Chuck himself says that

It’s a comic/erotic thriller, a mash-up of ‘mommy porn’ and chick lit such as Sex and the City, and fantasy lit like Clan of the Cave Bear.  Imagine if Ira Levin had a baby with Jean Auel.

I have no idea what exactly this means for the novel, but it sounds… interesting.

I wonder if Chuck Palahniuk is insecure about what he writes. His books sound extremely self-confident, even arrogant, but I want to know what the person behind these awesome works of fiction is like. Is he hesitant to show his work to other people? Does he ask others for their opinion during the process of writing, or does he complete the story first and then has other people revise it?

No matter what the answer is, another author will definitely give a completely different answer. If I want to write fiction one day – and I’m pretty sure I still want to do it – I have to find my own way through the jungle of writing techniques. For the time being, I’ll stick with blogging. This article is now 750 words long, and I have only rewritten a sentence or two. Writing 750 words of fiction, on the other hand, would take me hours.


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