Everyone has their own ideas of success. Person X might not feel successful until they make a million dollars. Person Y might not feel successful until they clear a particular hurdle like owning a home or wining a presidential election. For me, I believe in faking it until you make it and no one will be the wiser. I call myself a writer because that’s what I do. I may not have my articles published in The New York Times but I still write just about every day and have had my words published in publications with smaller distributions than The Gray Lady.
In this country we hear about people who arrive with three cents in their pockets and eventually turn into robber barons or are born here to immigrant parents and become 4-star Generals. Their success stories usually involve a lot of work and determination but their failures along the way never seemed to be highlighted.
This week at a friend’s birthday party, I met Edward Martin III. He is a bit of a local legend around here as he writes books, makes movies, doesn’t sleep much and is incredibly creative. I introduced myself by commenting on his creativity and asked if I rubbed myself up against him like a cat if it any of it would rub off on me. He laughed and we launched into a conversation about writing and what we do. We talked about the writing process and I told him I wasn’t very good at writing fiction. He gave me a look like, “have you really tried?”
We talked more about the writing process and something he said at the end of our conversation really hit me. When we see the finished, Photo-shopped image a photographer publishes, there are at least 200 or so images they had to shoot to get to that perfect shot. Same thing with writing. We write a lot of words. Much of it is crap and occasionally we crank out a gem. It is the equivalent of going through 3 rolls of film to get one really good image. During our conversation, Edward pointed to his book of short stories sitting on the table in front of him and said there were at least 3 or 4 stories in the book he really liked and the rest were passable.
Insert light bulbs shattering moment.
As a perfectionist, I thought all writers wrote great works and had to do a little editing at the end. Yes, I’m being completely unreasonable but bear with me. As I stated above, I prefer to learn about the writing process and the failures that happened along the way. As a writer, it’s important to know Neil Gaiman wrote 12 versions of American Gods before completing the final draft. It makes the creative process more human and relatable.
I have a little speech by Ira Glass pinned to my bulletin board that paraphrase the writing process and most importantly, talks about making stuff that isn’t good. We will make crap and we will be disappointed but our good taste in words, stories and art will keep us going. He says people often never get past this phase and our work is only as good as our ambitions. Here’s a link to the videos where Ira describes the creativity and learning process.
So, going back to my original conversation with Edward that lead to this blog post, at the end of the evening Edward shook my hand as we stood outside of The Horse Brass Pub, and without having read a word I have ever written, turned to me and told me to promise to keep writing. I stood there dazed and a little choked up and answered, “Of course I will.”
After my light bulb shattering moment this weekend, I want to pass it along to you, Gentle Reader, and ask that you promise to continue to write, create, experiment, love, do whatever makes you happy, and promise to make a lot of mistakes, create a lot of crap, and thoroughly enjoy the process.
The deep end of the pool is waiting.