On Failure and Forgiveness

I’ve been editing.

This is the hardest part of the process for me.

Through Story is a State of Mind, I’ve been cultivating a judgement-free space for my freewriting, for my first drafts. It means I’m able to sit down, to start writing (without too much procrastination), and to allow whatever comes to mind to go down on the page. I’m not second-guessing, I’m not scratching out whole sections, I’m not over-planning or over-structuring, and I’m able – most of the time – to stop that little voice that says, “This isn’t good enough.”

It’s taken a lot of practice to put aside those judgements. And I still have to be very mindful. But most of the time I’m able to do it, and as a result, I’m writing a lot more and more consistently than ever before.

But that little voice has come back with a vengeance now I’m editing. Because I need to be critical. It’s important that I judge what’s there to make it better. But that gap between what I thought was there and what’s actually there on the page is crushing.

I’ve been reading Ann Patchett’s The Getaway Car. She describes this feeling of taking what it lovely and beautiful in your head and transcribing it to the page perfectly:

“I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done, I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and movement—is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s the book.”

That’s where I am. The only colour on the page now is red ink.

But I’m trying to remember that this is important too, this is part of the practice, this is the only way to make it better.

To remind myself of that, I keep re-reading another passage from The Getaway Car:

“I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I’m capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”

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