Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Dealing with the F word

You know Rudyard Kipling, the problematic imperialist poet dude? He wrote this poem called IF, and even though it's about how to be a man (because so much of pre-21st c. art is), bits of it speak to me. For instance:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
You know what he's talking about there, right? It's a thing many writers know all too well. The F word. No, the other one: Fail. Failure. Bombing. Splatting. That thing NASA says isn't an option. Hell, I didn't know it was ever a choice. Like, I'd like to skip the fail today, thanks, can I have double beans instead? 

But it's always an option, frequently the only one. And if you've gotten a fresh serving of it, you aren't alone. Many of us experience failure. We almost court it when we query agents or submit to contests or publish a book that we're timidly hoping people will love, but our choosing to take the risk doesn't make failure hurt any less when it comes. Having courage doesn't mean you don't feel pain when you lose.

So, how do you deal with it? I guess a really important skill for a writer to have is the ability to bounce back, or as the poem says, "lose, and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss." Because that's what's we are expected to do: cheerfully just keep writing, and just keep risking. Excruciating review? Don't read it. Traditional publishing slams the gate on you? Move on to self-publishing. Sales are crap? Just change your name or genre or both and keep on keeping on.

Yes, the other really important skill to develop as a writer is internalizing all of your feelings. When you experience failure in this biz you cannot show anyone how much it hurts. You can't talk about it, not to your friends, not to your agent, and definitely not on social media (don't don't don't do this). You keep it secret, keep it safe. Otherwise you are whining, and that's not a thing writers do. We are optimistic happy people, damn it.

If that sounds like a load of fecal matter, well, it is. And if you're feeling the sting, I absolutely get you. You aren't alone, even if it feels like it. I believe you can come back from the F, that we can both come back, but it doesn't have to happen all at once, and it's okay to feel the way you feel. If it ever gets to be too much, look me up (twitter, facebook, email). I promise I won't tell you you're whining. 

Also, please remember this: Failure does not define you. You are worthy, and anybody says otherwise, I have another F word for them.

p.s. -- A friend posted a link to this video of Michael Caine reading the poem IF, and it's ... well, it's Michael Caine. *hearteyes* I had to share.