I’ve been failing rather a lot lately. Or so I tell myself, in that nasty scolding tone that all-too-often characterises my internal dialogue. And that voice is especially loud when it comes to my writing. I’m not meeting goals, not applying myself, not disciplined enough, not planning properly, not proactive in trying to build or maintain a brand, a profile… You get the picture.
It doesn’t actually help when I remind myself of just how productive I can be. From 1987 to 1997, I had 8 children’s books published. And from 2004, another 5 published, with a further 2 novels unpublished. Between those two very active periods, however, there were 7 years of little creative writing and no publishing. (I must add that they were years during which I had a baby and completed a post-graduate diploma in children’s literature and moved our family to help my parents age in their own home. Busy? Very!)
For the past 15 years I haven’t had a break from major writing projects. When, at the end of 2017, the children’s book I’d been working on for a couple of years didn’t come off (I’ve tried to use another word for ‘failure’!) I thought that a break of six months…or even a year…would do me good. Then I could re-launch. But, disappointingly, none of the three projects I’ve been working on have taken off. Thus the hectoring tone of my self talk. Just get over yourself, and get on with it, woman!
Am I a failure? Have I failed? No, of course not – and yes, absolutely. My Verity Sparks books did unexpectedly well…but the final book is now out of print, so I guess that’s the end of Verity. My adult novel How Bright Are All Things Here didn’t sell well at all – but I love the story and the character of Bliss; I’m so glad that I wrote it. My two unpublished books were a colossal waste of time and energy, but I learned an enormous amount from writing them.
Perhaps I’m due for a break. Perhaps I should give myself a break, too, from my own self-imposed expectations? After reading How to Fail, I think – not perhaps – definitely.
How to Fail by Elizabeth Day is a lovely, funny, wise reminder that things go wrong all the time. She takes a range of ‘failures’ – from the heart-tearing loss of her dream to have a child, to the laugh-out-loud attempt to live like Gwyneth Paltrow for a week – and shows us that without failure, none of us would learn, grow or thrive.