failure is your friend

Last year I started working on two novel seeds at the same time. One felt a bit like me exploring my own dreams and fantasies and the other felt a little more lively – like a story someone else might want to read – so I continued with that one and let the other one recede.

I finished a rough draft of the second, so now it’s resting before I go back in.

This week, I got out the first and was surprised to find that I liked it. I’m going to invite it to dance and see what happens.

This is how my creative energy works.

There are seeds – little sparks – and I work with them – more than one at a time – until one rises to the surface and sings to me and I finish it.

And what I desire, of course, is that these sparks will lead to the completion of something that I actually like. Something that works –

A painting I feel comfortable hanging on the wall. A story I feel good about publishing.

But that’s not always the case.

With paintings, in fact, there’s almost a rhythm to it. I’ll paint two paintings I like and the third one will be a clunker.

I know almost from the beginning – in the earliest stages of the painting, I can feel it. Something’s not right. I’m not in the groove. This one isn’t going to come together.

But I keep going.

I like to keep working on the ones that aren’t working. I like to see them through – to something, some point of completion, even if they are failures.

In writing, in painting, in business – in pretty much everything – the failures are as important as the successes.

The stories that fall flat, that are basically glorified daydreams?

The paintings I push and push at that just won’t breathe or let me in?

I learn something from them.

They show me something about my process, my limitations, my longings. They are, in their own way, maps for the journey.

Each failure leads to the next stone beneath my feet, the next success.

The next painting after a failed painting is always one that I like, and it’s always better than the ones that came before.

And every thing that I don’t like, every painting or piece of writing that fails (although I suppose the paintings and stories might argue it is I who fails them) always has within it something I do like – a passage or phrase – a moment that completely works even though the piece as a whole does not.

This week, the woman teaching my Zumba class said, “Everybody’s sleeping and we’re working!”

It was morning, 10 degrees out, but those of us in the room had made the decision to get up, out of bed, put on clothes, drive to the gym.

We were ready to merengue or do an approximation of the merengue.

That’s what mattered.

Working through failures is like that.

You are alive; you are in motion.

Maybe your artwork or writing is a perfectly executed merengue or maybe it’s something sort of like a merengue, or maybe it’s something no one would ever recognize was an attempt at a merengue – but it is something. You are not asleep. You are up and you are moving.

That’s what matters.

The failures are just as much a part of your process as the successes.

Just as necessary. Just as illuminating.

You learn from them and from them, you grow.

When you stand in front of your blank page or your blank canvas and the voices of doubt begin to chatter at you about fear and failure – ask yourself, “So what?”

What do you lose by writing a bad story?

Who cares if your painting never gets there?

Nothing is lost.

Creative expression is always expansion. It’s always an opening. It always places you on the next stone in your pathway.

Give yourself permission to make bad art.

It may be bad, but it’s always worthwhile.