My Favorite Writing Advice: Failing on the Page

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Failing on the page.

Favorite writing advice:

“You must allow yourself to fail on the page.”

Who said it:

Jaimee Wriston Colbert, fiction writing professor

Why:

Perfectionism will kill your writing goals. You’ll never get off the ground if you’re afraid to fail. I was afraid of failure, afraid of what people would think if my writing wasn’t good enough. Jaimee, lovely woman that she is, says we ALL fail on the page, every single one of us, including National-Book-Award and Pulitzer-Prize winners. Accept that it’s going to happen, let it happen, don’t freak out when it does, & keep on writing afterward. Not everything we write is going to be publishable. But those failures, if we let them, can teach us something, first and foremost how to be better writers.

Someone once said to me that writer’s block is about perfectionism. To a degree, I think that’s true. When I don’t worry about how the first draft comes out, when I know I’m not going to be showing it to anyone, I usually don’t have any kind of problem writing. It’s when I start thinking about how readers will react to it that I start to second-guess, when I slow down & start procrastinating, when I choose doing laundry (sad but true) over writing. I think the worst thing you can do to yourself as a writer is to stop writing. Even when it’s hard, keep moving forward. A sentence here, a paragraph there, whatever. As I’ve often heard, the cure to any kind of writing problem is to just keep writing. But the only way you’re going to keep writing is if you let yourself be willing to fail.

How it changed my writing:

I stopped being so uptight about getting it right & changed my attitude to simply getting it onto paper. Sure, I had pages and pages and pages of material that never made it into the book; entire chapters in fact. But because I let the story be a mess, let the failures happen, I got a lot of insight into the characters, their motivations or lack thereof, what was working in the scenes & what wasn’t, what I wanted to say versus what was just clutter. Letting yourself fail also shows you valuable insights into your own process, what works for you & what doesn’t, so it’ll (theoretically~lol) be easier the next time around. Nobody welcomes failure, true, but keep this in mind: it can make you a better writer if you let it.

So do you let yourself fail on the page? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.

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