failure setup

Something (maybe the main thing) I’ve learned from knowing a lot of people who make software and websites for a living is the importance of failure. Fail fast and often, they say: this is what makes you better at what you do. Learn how you broke what you broke. Find the way to fix it. Keep making it better by aiming higher than what you know you can do right. It’s in that spirit that I’m looking forward to my first stab at NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow. By some measures, it’s certain to be a failure: I don’t think I’ll have anything resembling a novel I’d want to read, for one, and the word count goal is pretty lofty, for two. But another stab at making the habit work, keeping the words churning – that’s always worth something (which may be why it seems like the only thing I ever say here). And it will be worthwhile to make a daily effort towards willful defiance of my editorial impulse, since the only way I’ll ever get close to 50,000 words is for some of the words to be the roughest possible draft. I’ll be working quickly, in broad strokes, hoping for nothing more than a few things I can excerpt and improve on. (This came up in my dream last night in the form of a Kickstarter project I was about to launch to write a book: I was giving a reading to all my friends who’d pledged to support it, and I had nothing to read to them. My subconscious can be maddeningly straightforward sometimes.)

Other than encouraging failure, a couple other sources of motivation come to mind. I’m storing them here with this context in the hopes that they’ll continue to be useful to me, and maybe you, too. One is Lynda Barry’s idea that “the arts are like an external immune system“: I don’t have to make things because they will be good, but because it cleanses, wards off evil, strengthens the things that make a person herself. (Lynda Barry is amazing, by the way.) The other is something I’ve printed and put on my desk: Frank Chimero’s sketch about “How to Have an Idea.” Approaching fiction, a type of writing to which I’m very unaccustomed, it’s useful to be reminded that an idea is always bits and pieces of other ideas, and that you don’t have to decide whether or not it’s good while you’re still busy exploring it.

So that’s what I’ll be doing with some hours of each day for the next few weeks! I’ll be having ideas, making things. I’ll be failing constantly, and hopefully beautifully, at least a little.


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