Right for Change: The Tranformative Act of Writing

by Jill Wilbur Smith

Emily’s post about “failing faster” made me contemplate my own writing process. Or more accurately these days, my lack-of-writing process. I agree wholeheartedly that fear of failure is one of the things that keeps me from writing. But I also have a slightly different take on it.

For me, every act of writing is transformative. I’m a different person after a writing session than I was before I started. That’s especially true about writing creative nonfiction, memoir or this personal blog. But I also find it true when writing fiction.

IMG_2713The act of finding the right words to describe an emotion, recall in precise detail an event from my past, or create a character who comes alive on the page is exhausting. And some days it’s too much for me. In fact, many days it’s more than I can face.  [Just now, I stopped for a full 4 minutes to reflect on this, to prepare myself for change.]

Change is good. I understand that. I get it. It’s important. But it’s not necessarily something I want to do every day.

Imagine if you had to change your breakfast every day. Not necessarily in a big way, just a small change. But different every day. If you have cream cheese on your bagel on Monday, you have to choose a different topping on Tuesday. You might get cranky. You might not want to change. There will come a day when you crave the comfort of the cream cheese. But you can’t go back. And if you do, it won’t ever be quite the same again.

That’s how writing is for me. When I share a story about coming through a difficult time with Emily as a toddler, I forever cement in place that moment in time. If I’ve remembered something with less than perfect accuracy, I’ve in some way changed the event itself. And I’ve rearranged something in the very fiber of my being that makes me someone different than I was before.

I think that’s why I tend to write in bursts. I’ve tried to have the discipline to write every day as my enthusiastic daughter suggests. In fact, I finished a novel mostly by writing in 20-minute sessions every morning. But for the most part I write in bursts of hours or days on an essay or a piece of fiction.

I write when I’m ready for change. When I know I can handle a new me.

I also write when I need to change. I write when a painful event crushes me, threatens to annihilate me if I don’t push back, lift the beast off my back, wrestle it to the page and put together the words that give it shape and meaning and allow me to move on.

I write when I’m ready to be transformed from the fearful one to the one who knows she can handle anything.

Fail Faster: A Change of Plans

by Emily Smith

The creative process and formatting of this blog isn’t working for me. So I propose an altered schedule, to revitalize our writing. Specifically, my own writing. I’ve posted here without my mother’s review, and indeed, without much revision. Sorry, Mom. I guess “autism” really is Latin for selfishness. But I HAVE to get this out there. I HAVE to get this seen.

The collaborative nature of this blog means that the two of us spend a lot of time talking to each other as co-authors before anything gets posted. But that also tends to mean, if we can’t find time to actively collaborate, nothing gets posted. We stagnate, regardless of whose turn it is or who has what posts done. I’m having a lot of trouble with this paradigm. It’s not working.

So I’m posting something every day now. Here are my reasons.

1. I feel compelled to do so. As a creative type, I find that listening to such compulsions usually yields ideas worth sharing.

2. Time I spend writing, especially for this blog, is time I always get back. It fuels a more productive day than I’d have had otherwise. That feels like I can do MAGIC with my time. I put an hour into the spell, and I get two more hours out of it. It’s a fountain, an unwinding clock, a wormhole of constantly regenerating time. It could make me immortal if I did enough of it.

3. Whenever I’m awaiting an editing session, I sprout this gnawing fear of failure. It makes me so twitchy inside that I can’t write anything good. At least, I can’t write what I think will be good enough. Robin Williams tribute? Not topical enough. Description of my day? Nobody wants to hear that. Generic post about a particular autism difficulty? But I could post that anytime! Where’s the perfection?!

But NO creative idea is perfect. Explained on their face, a lot of creative ideas are really bad! Check THESE out!

A video game about a plumber on drugs!

A play about two guys on a bench whose friend never shows up!

A novel about a bumbling old Irishman that’s full of nonsense words! Like the Odyssey, but NOT!

A picture of six hookers, but in the shape of REALLY ugly cubes! And the one in the corner is like, ten times uglier than the other five!

Yeah, let’s go there. Let’s make all that.

And we’ve got Super Mario Brothers, Waiting for Godot, Ulysses, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, respectively. They’re works of media we love. They were gamechangers. They became classics in their genres. They made Nintendo, Nintendo. Made Picasso, Picasso. And they’re all totally weird ideas that probably met a lot of failures on their way to the final iteration.

Which is why I need to FAIL FASTER.

Failures transport us between Points A and B. FAIL FASTER.

Failures give birth to human interaction about those same failures. They spawn conversation, spawn revision. FAIL FASTER.

Failures on job interviews might get me down, but they’ll point me toward the authorial success I strive for, and deserve. FAIL. FASTER.

Mom, you can post as frequently or infrequently as you want. I am here to help. I’ll also be asking you for your opinions on these posts as much as ever. I hope you’ll be here to help me as well.

But I need. To fail. Faster.

And if you’ll pardon me, gentle readers, I’m off to my part-time gig, where maybe I’ll fail some more. Just as long as I’m failing faster.