Monday, July 8, 2013

Failing Up

The Guardian is a treasure trove for lit fans, but this article deserves special mention: Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure (full props to Sam Stephenson for sending me the link). The title delivers on its promise with literary giants such as Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, and Lionel Shriver weighing in on their experiences of failure both personal and professional. The literary world can seem insular and snobbish, but failure is thankfully (?) universal, so many of these confessionals might resonate with readers.

Barnes' essay posits the importance of 'failure models': "There were a fair number of failure models on view: the drunk, the incompetent, the placemen and the pompous. I was astonished to find that it was possible to spend your life surrounded by great literature and remain (or become) paralysed by snobbery." I would quote much more, but the essay is rather liberally peppered with profanity. Without spoiling anything, Barnes, like many of the other writers, soon comes to realize the relativity of success and failure.

Meanwhile, I found this passage by Anne Enright strangely inspiring: "I have no problem with failure - it is success that makes me sad. Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people. Even when I am pointed the right way and productive and finally published, I am not satisfied by the results. This is not an affectation, failure is what writers do." Her essay is most representative of my own feelings regarding writing and the curious mixture of pessimism and optimism that frustrates and spurs me on:  "I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail."

There are plenty more chestnuts scattered throughout the article-- too many to quote-- so I suggest you give it a look.

No comments:

Post a Comment