Monday, August 24, 2015

I Tried to Write Something and It Was a Failure

Three weeks ago I got one of the best ideas I’d had in a long time—it was funny, spoke about a meaningful subject, and would permeate with energy when read in front of a group.  I planned out the idea for a full two weeks, jotting down jokes and clever turns of phrase as they came to me, and confident in exactly how the final product would sound.  (This is the fun part of writing, where everything feels easy and perfect in the idea stage.)  When my schedule finally settled down I set aside a morning where I would type out an actual draft to make real, and this is when things changed.

Sometimes when I start writing I’m filled with energy and know exactly how I want those first few sentences to sound, though other times I stagger in my opening and find the rhythm as I go.  This was one of those times when the beginning felt weak but I knew I could iron out the tone and pacing over the course of writing, and so I continued through a sloppy opening.  It was a dull, stiflingly humid morning, and in my kitchen where I write my air conditioner hadn’t yet driven in enough cool air from the living room to make a difference. I’d also become aware of a sharp, weighty headache that caused me to lose focus every few minutes, though I knew that if I could just get past those opening paragraphs and start adding the jokes I’d already written that everything would be fine.  I thought again about how good the piece would sound when finished, hearing sections in my head (fragments of sentences, mostly, or certain dramatic climaxes) that rekindled my confidence and drove me to continue.

My headache, though, was getting worse, and when I added in the jokes from my notebook they felt out of place, like I was trying to beat life into an otherwise stagnant piece of writing.  I thought about things I needed to do that day and how late I’d slept, and tried to remember the glorious rhythm of the piece as I’d rehearsed it in my head, trying hard to summon the energy, the humor, and the bitingly sarcastic voice I knew would make it a success. 

I don’t remember when exactly I lost faith in what I was writing; I think for a long while I believed that a few rounds of revision could smooth out the rough prose, the inconsistent voice, and the overly long paragraphs, but then this hope fizzled out and left me wondering whether to abandon the draft and return to bed (it was still very humid in that kitchen) or to finish and commit to paper the ending I’d planned.  Those last two paragraphs were the hardest—hard because I didn’t believe in the piece anymore, and was writing for the sake of finishing something I’d started, and I knew that no idea, no matter how clever, could save the piece now.

When I typed out the last sentence I felt sick from fatigue and defeat; the piece would need a complete overhaul that required I start it again from scratch, which I did not at that point (and still don’t) know how to do.  It bothered me that the piece was a failure, and I didn’t write anything after that for a long time. 

I find myself wondering what lesson can be learned from this experience, what I can take from it that will make me a better writer, and what I can explain in this final paragraph that will uplift and educate you as readers, but I don’t think there’s any lesson to be learned here, and any attempt to churn one from this story will come across as childish and trite.  No—failing to write that piece was just something that happened, like breaking a shoelace or finding mold in your sour cream, and now it’s done with and should be forgotten—not in that repressed memory kind of way where later on you cringe upon recalling this thing that bothered you, but in that way where you can’t quite remember what you ate for breakfast the previous day but could probably recall it if someone asked you and you concentrated for a short while.  It was just a thing that happened.

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