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Getting Comfortable With Failure

[1]

As writers and as people, most of us have been told over and over again to push ourselves. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try! Reach for the stars! Writers often set ambitious goals — daily word counts, strict deadlines — to move our writing forward. On one hand, I’ve never agreed with the advice that you absolutely have to write every day. On the other hand,┬áin certain stages of writing, I find it helpful to have a structure that forces me to the page on the regular, like NaNoWriMo or Jami Attenberg’s #1000daysofsummer. The writing may come out great or terrible — most often, a mixture of both — but I’m always glad to have words on the page that weren’t there before, even if they’re not the right words, and I can’t get there by only writing when I feel like it.

But we’re also living through particularly challenging times, with levels of fear and anxiety and anger that seem to rise by the day. In order to make it through, we’re often counseled to take it easy on yourself, lower your standards, acknowledge that you can’t do everything. Everyone’s challenges are different, but we’re all struggling, and in the struggle it’s essential to sort out the necessary from the nice-to-have. Writing can feel indulgent when there are so many matters worthy of our attention, literal issues of life and death playing out across the country and around the world. When you consider that, writing goals can feel frivolous — how could a few more words on the page even matter?

How do we balance these competing forces? Do we? Is the very concept of balance a luxury that got thrown out the window when 2020 came roaring in?

Every writer will have a different concept of how to go forward. For some, that means not writing for a while, focusing on other things. For others, especially those with writing deadlines that equate directly with getting paid, there’s no option to give up — and it’s the other things that, temporarily at least, fall by the wayside.

For me, for now, getting through these days means getting comfortable with failure.

So I set those writing goals, the words per day, the numbers climbing and climbing. I aim high. I force myself to the keyboard to make progress. And when I fail — because there will be times, I know, when I fail — I will be okay with that. I will treat myself as kindly as I would a friend, or better yet, a stranger.

It may not be the right answer for everyone, but for now, it’s the right answer for me.

Q: How are you redefining your relationship with writing these days? Have you found an answer that works for you, or are you still searching?

About Jael McHenry [2]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [3] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [4] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.

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