Megan’s post on Monday (“Permission to Fail: Granted”) struck a real chord with me. I’ve definitely had many days when the words I was putting on the page didn’t begin to live up to the pristine version of the story in my head. Days when a shiny new idea, as yet unsullied by my pedestrian writing skills, sang its siren song and tried to tempt me away from my mess of a work-in-progress.
It took me a very long time to learn how to ignore those songs. How long? Well, let me tell you a story.
When I was in college, an alum who had graduated 10 years earlier came to my department to read from his first published novel. Not only had this author been a Creative Writing major, like me, but he’d graduated number one in his class. And while I was excited to meet a published alum, I have to admit that I was also a little bit appalled. Here was someone who was clearly smart, studious, and well-trained. How on earth had it taken him a full decade after graduation to write one book?
After all, I was just a junior, but I had already started working on my first novel. Well, thinking about it—thinking about what a good idea it was, and how brilliant it was going to be once I wrote it. Surely, it would be published by the time I was 22, or 23 at the latest.
Can you see where this story is going? 🙂
I never finished that novel—barely started it, really. Hamstrung by my own perfectionism, I found first-drafting to be completely torturous. When I decided to stop writing it, my feelings were simultaneous ones of utter relief and crushing disappointment. I had wanted to be a novelist since the fourth grade; I had tried to do it; and I had failed.
Years went by before I got brave enough to try again. This time, I was going to write a novel for children. That would be easier, I convinced myself. (Kids’ novels were shorter, at least.)
I worked on that “short” novel for five years. There were times when I let myself get distracted and put it down for months. But I was determined to finish, and I’m still not sure any part of this entire publication process has felt as good to me as writing the words “The End” did on that last page of the first draft.
When All Four Stars is published, two weeks from today, I’ll be a lucky 13 years out of college. Pretty pathetic in the eyes of my 19-year-old self…but heroic in the eyes of 22-year-old me, who thought she had failed at being a novelist forever.
It took me more than a decade to learn this, but now I know: The only sure way to fail is to be so afraid of failing that you stop trying.
Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.