Failing Beautifully

I assigned myself this blog because Life had taken me away from Art and I needed a way back to the page. I thought if I had a deadline I’d produce. And I have produced—many many badly written glib little bloglets that fortunately I can delete. But in the process, I remembered my version of something the writer, artist and teacher Martin Prechtel said that has stuck with me always—that we write to exercise our soul muscles, and that in the end, we can only aspire to fail, but at the very least, to fail beautifully. Or something like that. [I take full credit for what is probably a misquote and a personal interpretation, but I also associate him with this memory and it gives me heart, so I cite him anyway.]

So what does that mean? I am thinking of my own experience. Sitting down to write all these versions of blogs the world will never see could have been an exercise in frustration—well, it was, a bit. But that was mostly because I hadn’t arrived at a version I could print, not because I didn’t like the exercise. There was a part of me that was happy, regardless of the lack of success, was engaged in something that fed me in a way I couldn’t quantify. Somehow, the experience of moving pen across paper, of pushing myself to find words and create, was enough. The writing, and the working at the writing.

Of course I like completing poems, stories, books, but that is a different kind of happiness. And I’m not saying that we should keep writing into the wind without caring if anybody reads our words. I just know from this exercise with the blog that I feel alive when I write, and crabby when I don’t. I’m trying to articulate That.

So to go further, I’m thinking that the physical act of writing is an elegant workout for that part of me that is full of surprises. Creativity is a complete unknown—how does it work? What is going to come from me? I can take a walk, start to write something in my head, go to the page, and get something completely different. I am assuming this happens for others—this vision in our head becomes something else the minute the pen hits the paper. It’s very mysterious. So that might be one thing about failing beautifully—we are attempting to reach that vision, and we may or may not ever get there, but we reach for it, anyway, and maybe it’s about the aspiring to do so that creates something even more wonderful, something unexpected.

Or perhaps it’s that old saying that it isn’t the destination, but the journey.

On the other hand, maybe we write simply because we have to, and this part about failing beautifully–perhaps the failure itself is wonderful. That certainly changes the word failure, doesn’t it…softens it, puts it on a spectrum, doesn’t make it the opposite of success, but makes it a different kind of success…

My other draft blogs were circling the topic of what to do when Life interferes with Art, which had even more to do with a stalled revision process. So this idea of failing beautifully is very powerful for me, because if I allow it, it will liberate me to stop thinking things have to be a certain way and simply get down inside the novel once again and play. To remember the parts of me that love to write and dreamed the dream that created this book. I am tired of standing at the edge of the swimming pool afraid to leap. I’m looking everywhere I can for courage.

The wonderful artist and mentor Kate Ransohoff taught that Play is underneath all creativity—that playing without destination helps connect us to the creative flow. Often the deeper we get into our work, the more we forget about playing. Everything begins to matter too much. But what if we approach our drafts with the spirit of play, and take chances, experiment? We—okay, I—might find ourselves actually getting that revision done.


  1. Lisa Birk

    Yes to “I feel alive when I write, and crabby when I don’t” and to this “Often the deeper we get into our work, the more we forget about playing. Everything begins to matter too much.” Yes, yes, yes! I am amazed at how many problems I solve when I’m not bearing down on the page, looming over it, demanding that the right end/beginning/middle/paragraph/sentence/word come!!!

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