Hi, Dave Fessenden here with some thoughts on writing for this Friday blog. Right now, I’m working on the sequel to my first novel (The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy), and having to remind myself of some of the things I’ve told others about writer’s block.
One thing I’ve learned about tackling a new project is this: don’t expect to succeed.
I know, this is counter-intuitive. Everyone tells you to take a positive attitude, to visualize yourself succeeding, right? Well, how’s that been working out for you?
If you’re the perfectionist type, you have created a target in your mind that is so far beyond reality that you could never reach it. (The only reason I’m not a perfectionist is that I fall so short of perfection it’s laughable, and there’s no such thing as a mediocritist.) So take the attitude that you’re going to fail your way to success.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old story of Edison trying out hundreds of materials for a light bulb filament before finding one that worked. What do you think his thought process was when he tested the first filament? He may have been hopeful of its success, but I’m inclined to think he was not expecting to succeed on the first try—or the tenth, or maybe even the hundredth.
In the same way, you try to write a scene a certain way, and it doesn’t seem to be working. Is it just you, or does it really sound as bad as you think? So you try a different tack. No such luck. Finally, on your third or fourth try, it starts to sound less clunky. You may ask yourself, “Now why couldn’t I have just done it right the first time?”
But look closer your creative process. You may see that your third try incorporated some things you learned in the process of the first two tries. Every word you write is a learning experience. In other words, the process is not work, succeed, work, succeed, work, succeed. It is work, fail, work, fail, work, succeed. You need to fail your way to success!
This can really be a freeing thought if you embrace it. No more having to get it right the first time; recognizing that if what you’re writing isn’t working, it still has value. Even the poorest written material can show you the right direction to go.
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant. He has degrees in journalism and theology, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. He has published several nonfiction books and written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, his first novel, reflects his love for history and for the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan-Doyle.