Failing Versus Quitting (Or, “Your Lack Of Confidence Is Neither Interesting Nor Unique”)
I have, as of late, been trying to beam shining waves of positivity, bathing you in the golden light of rah-rah-you-can-do-it vibes, hugging you in the enveloping arms of cheerleadery awesomeness, making out with you and using my ovipositor tongue to plant in your esophagus seed warts of raw confidence.
But the time for such kindness is over.
The time for my boot to destroy your rectum has begun.
Don’t think I don’t see you over there. Trembling in the corner. Moping. Sniffling. Your pants bottom soggy from the cooling urine beneath you. You’re a writer. Or you “want to be” a writer. And you’re staring off at an unfixed point in space, and in that unfixed point is a gravity well that draws forward your motivation, your confidence, your authorial hopes and dreams.
And then you get on Twitter. Or Facebook. Or the NaNoWriMo forums. Or you grab your cat. And you tell them all how you’re not going to be able to do it. How you’re not good enough. Or you make up some other excuse: kids, time, wife, life. And everybody nods and smiles and tells you it’s okay, and they pat your hand while condemning you with a single thought: Pfah. Writers. Or worse, they put quotation marks around that word — “writers” — because in their hearts they know you’re not the real deal.
And so, you plan to quit. Just this book, of course. You’ll quit this one. Start another some day.
You begin a doubt circuit, a loop of explanation that explains it all away, that fills the holes, a medicated ring of self-made gauze that eases the sting and comforts the blow of quitting. This book was never going to be good enough. I haven’t learned enough! I haven’t been enough places. I haven’t hob-nobbed. I don’t know the right people. This computer is too slow. I need a better word processor. Scrivener sounds good, but that’ll take me time to learn. I need to read more writing advice. I’m just gonna get rejected. Publishing is cannibalizing itself anyway — just last week all the Big Six publishers got together to form a giant space arcology and when it’s complete they’ll leave Earth with all the writers and nuke us from orbit. Agents are going extinct. Novelists can’t make a living. Who cares? This book was stupid.
The whole thing is stupid.
I’m giving up.
Seriously. Shut the fuck up for a minute.
Take that voice — the jabbering jaw inside your head, the one spouting excuses and explanations, the one barfing up a septic toilet-bowl of toxic reasons, the one attempting to ascribe value to your shame, to your lack of confidence, to normalize all your fears and make them acceptable — and choke it off. Close its windpipe. Crush its trachea. Cram a brick in its throat if you must.
It’s not okay to shellac over your failure with excuses.
Failure is necessary. But quitting is not the same as failing.
Failure provides powerful lessons. It affords insight. It allows you to have a whole picture that you can one day hold before you and say, “I see what’s wrong with this picture, now.” Quitting is standing there with a half-a-picture. An incomplete image. And more to the point: an incomplete lesson.
Failure is stepping into the street with a gun at your hip and standing across from your foe — clock strikes noon, she draws, you draw, bang bang, gunpowder haze, smoke clears, and you drop while she keeps standing. That’s failure. You drew. You fell. Maybe you live to fight another day. Maybe you learned something about the next time you need to draw that gun. And everybody knows you fought with honor.
You did the deed. And the deed is done.
Quitting is you hiding in a fucking rain barrel while the gunslinger passes you by.
Failure is brave. Quitting is a coward’s game.
What, you think you’re the first writer who doesn’t think he can do it?
Uh, hello, please to meet every writer ever. We’re all fucking headcases. We all hit a point in every piece of work where we hate it, hate ourselves, hate publishing, hate the very nature of words (“Marriage? What a stupid word what’s that goddamn little ‘i’ doing in there FUCK THIS HOO-HA LANGUAGE IS STUPID I QUIT”). We all bang our heads against our own presumed inadequacies and uncertainties. Writing and storytelling isn’t a math problem with a guaranteed solution. It’s threading a needle inside our heart with an invisible string strung with dreams and nightmares. We are afforded zero guarantees.
You got… what, you got writer’s block? A crisis of confidence? I have good and bad news for you, hoss: you’re not alone. Good thing is, others have gone through it. Bad news is, others have gone through it and they’ve come out the other side of the shit tunnel with a completed manuscript in their trembling hands. Some writer has inevitably had it far worse than you do and they still managed to spin straw into gold and get the job done. They had less time than you. They felt worse than you. Their crisis-of-confidence was more profound than yours. And they still managed.
I mean, sure, a lot didn’t manage. And now they’re piles of smoking wreckage by the side of the road as faster cars pass them by. Fuck them, we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about you. And you’re going to keep on keepin’ on. You’re not just gonna pull over, turn off the car and starve to death. You’re gonna push that pedal to the floor. You’re gonna make the rubber hit the road. You’re going to finish this goddamn motherfucking sonofabitching journey even if you end up in a different place than you planned.
You can feel good about failure. Failure means you did something. You finished the story even if it wasn’t what you’d hoped. Failure means you’re learning. Growing. Doing.
But quitting — man, you don’t get that with quitting. With quitting all you get is a box full of puzzle pieces that don’t connect. You get a shattered mirror. You get a handful of dirt even the earthworms don’t want.
In storytelling, we say we want characters who are active over passive.
That’s you. You are the character in this story.
Quitting is passive. It’s letting go of the steering wheel.
Hell with that. Be active. Grab hold. White-knuckled.
Here’s what you’re going to do:
You’re going to suck in your gut. You’re going to lift your chin. You’re going to put on a big pair of shit-stompy boots and you’re gonna stomp on all the shit that’s in your way. The only thing you’re quitting today is the idea of quitting.
Repeat after me: It’s not okay to give up.
Again: It’s not okay to give up.
In all caps, now: IT’S NOT OKAY TO GIVE UP.
With more profanity: FUCK QUITTING.
With more incoherent rage: GNAARRRGHBLARG QUITFUCK KYAAAAAHH
I don’t want to hear about you quitting anymore. If I hear about you giving up, I’m going to modify a laser pointer to increase its intensity and I am going to laser shut your pee-hole. And then you’ll just urinate inside yourself and all you’ll be is a big ol’ roly-poly rumbly-tumbly sloshing skin-bag of wee-wee. Like that girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except filled with her own urine instead of blueberry juice.
It’s time to take it to the limit.
1980s montage style.
Punch beef. Tear a car battery in half. Jog in lava. Lift a John Deere tractor.
Because you can do this.
Maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you’ll succeed.
But at least you know you never quit.
Now, shut up and get back to work. Miles to go before you sleep.