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Annie Dillard, the American nature writer, said that the writing life “requires courage, patience, persistence, empathy, openness, and the ability to deal with rejection. It requires the willingness to be alone with oneself. To be gentle with oneself. To look at the world without blinders on. To observe and withstand what one sees. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks. To be willing to fail — not just once, but again and again, over the course of a lifetime…”

Freedom to fail. Writing well requires this. What are the conditions you need to be able to fail? What conditions do you require, to be able to honour failure?

Because failure is a gift. Failure teaches us again and again. I’m not talking about failure in terms of ‘the market’ – that’s a whole other conversation. That’s a conversation about publishers, and agents, and marketers. And marketing has very little to do with art.

And I’m not talking about failing to try. That’s not productive failure. Not trying is simply abandonment.

I’m talking about trying and failing. Trying to find your voice. Trying to find the structure, trying to edit, trying to remake your own words. And getting it wrong. Getting it spectacularly, messily wrong.

We talked about this way back in week one, about making a mess in order to make art. Now, as we come to the end of the Immersion program, I invite you to consider what you lose by avoiding failing? What do you lose by being careful?

A few years back I took on a really promising writer as a mentee. She was bright and talented, with a brilliant hook for a commercial novel. But once we started working together, I noticed that she seemed unable to move forward with the novel. Things got in the way. Life got in the way. And the voice that had started out so brilliantly started to falter; she was writing herself in circles. Eventually, we talked about what was getting in the way, what was stopping her rediscovering the thread and voice of her novel. It was a pretty emotional conversation that wound up with her saying, “I feel like it will be so embarrassing if I can’t get this right; I’ve made such a fuss about wanting to do it!” There was quite a bit more work to do, but together we developed strategies and tools to put that anxious voice aside, that internal writer who was so damned scared of failing she wasn’t allowing herself to succeed. One of the first things we did was spend some time looking at some key questions, starting with this one: what would it look like if I wasn’t worried about failing? What decisions would I make on the page and off?

And then, she did the work. She asked the questions. She faced up to her own anxieties and ego. And then she rewrote and rethought and had the courage to get right back to the thing which had driven her to write the novel in the first place. And two years later, with a spectacularly completed first novel and the brilliant beginnings of a second, she signed an international two-book deal with a leading publisher.

So today, I invite you to consider some of those questions. I invite you today to take your journal and ask yourself these powerful questions:

  • What would failing as a writer look like?
  • How does my fear of failing in this way hold me back?
  • What would the worst thing be if I failed?
  • What is one thing that I would do if I did not have to worry about failing?


Today’s prompt..


It was earlier than anyone knew…