Why is failure a negative response?
Well, yes, failing attempts at flying, playing with power points, or gaining your friends’ attention with the exclamation, “Hey, check this out!” can have negative consequences resulting in death, bloody maiming or a great story to tell.
Failure is couched in terms of shame, of disappointment, of not being successful, of letting people down, of not living up to a set of standards, morals or values. To fail, therefore, is to be less than, to be inferior, to be forgettable and forgotten.
So when it comes to beginning a creative project, or learning a new creative art, skill or craft, we are programmed to think of our early efforts as failures. They do not meet up to our expectations of what it should be (and yes, there is a disconnect between what we create and produce, and the expectations we have set for ourselves in the production of our work but that’s another blog post).
But as creative people, failure should not be considered a negative response to a project.
Failure does not define who we are as creative people.
Failure is not a measure of our worth.
Failure is a part of the creative learning process.
Every creative project we start is an experiment. It may or may not work. But that’s the beauty. When I am beginning a new story I am unsure if it will work. I write the first draft, let it sit, return to it and look for what needs to be improved (often, a lot of things). Whether it’s point of view, too florid in expression, characterisation or character development, dialogue or imagery.
Don’t be afraid to put in the hours of practice required. I think it’s where a lot of fledgling creatives stumble. They want the accolades but haven’t put in the necessary hours. The Mythbusters make it a part of their show: failure is always an option. It shows you one way it didn’t work. Repeat the experiment until you find the solution.
I love seeing Kathleen Jennings (@tanaudel) put up images of her sketch books, her practice pages, on twitter. She sits in public transport terminals, shopping centres, food courts and sketches people. Please check out her awesome work via her blog: Tanaudel.
I am very grateful for her permission to reproduce one of her images. I love how the colour frames a distinct individual. She had this to say about her process.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
I know I have not spent enough time behind my drum kit practicing rudiments, beats, fills. I have not practiced enough. The same applies to my writing; I need to spend more time with pen and paper scratching out paragraphs, lines, half sentences.
I have many documents of half started stories, poems, scripts and the like sitting on my computer hard drive as well as in multiple notebooks. This is the practice time spent conditioning my mind and perspective like an athlete to achieve the goals I have set.
Practice is repetitive.
Practice is boring.
Practice develops a discipline.
Practice is extending the boundaries of your skills, extending the place of your tent (to borrow a biblical phrase).
And, yes, there will be failures. Days when you feel like you’ve been given a fork to eat a bowl of clear soup. Days when you feel like there’s a hole in your shoe (and it’s raining), sit in gum, forget your lunch and suffer the ignominy of a nasty paper cut.
This is failure. And it sucks.
Write a paragraph a day. Sketch on the back of a shopping receipt. Doodle in the margin of the newspaper. Practice rudiments or scales for 5 minutes a day.
Failure is always an option because it is a learning opportunity. Failure is necessary to grow and develop in our chosen creative field.
The path behind you is not littered with the carcasses of failed projects but the evidence that you have trained and practiced.