Princess: Finding the courage to fail
The Aspen Princess
“So you want the title to be straightforward,” the marketing guy said. “I mean, I think what you have here is really creative, but you want Google to know exactly what your content is so you get a better ranking.”
Apparently, these days I am not writing for an actual audience or for real people with feelings and reactions to be inspired or challenged with ideas — I am writing for Google. Google! What a stupid name. As someone who has dedicated my life and my art to the craft of putting together words, I have become beholden to this faceless, lifeless technology with obtuse letters double-teaming those helpless little soft, placid vowels. It’s so gross.
The bulk of my paid writing these days is for blogs. The word “blog” is also such a stupid word. It doesn’t have much dignity to it. It’s, like, such a four-letter word. Who came up with that term, anyway? Hold on: Let me go ask Google.
This is so not how I imagined this would play out.
I always thought I would write a handful of books and become a best-selling author. This was a fantasy that began 10 years ago when I told anyone who would listen that I was writing a novel. I was convinced that this project would bring me fame, fortune and maybe even a turn on the red carpet (the book would be made into a movie, of course, with Kate Hudson playing me).
I imagined I’d walk the red carpet before I walked down the aisle. I pictured myself on a national book tour visiting big cities with bangs and long hair and thick-framed glasses even though I have perfectly good eyesight. I’d dress in tailored pants and simple silk blouses with really outrageous platform shoes that would give me a little edge and personality: pumps, sneakers, mules and ankle booties. That would be my signature. I’d wear my hair super-straight and very blond, which would require a lot of maintenance, but who cares? I’d have plenty of money to pay for it.
I know I’ve told some of you this story before, but the reason I had so much hope was because I had a pretty big literary agent who had taken interest in me and was helping me to “cultivate” my novel. She gave me a lot of direction.
“It can’t be about your columns or about a columnist. It has to be all original material,” she said. “It has to be fiction. It can’t be about you. It has to be a novel.”
Well, I had no idea how to write a novel, and (in case you haven’t noticed) I certainly have no idea how to come up with ideas that veer too far from my naval. So I attended a few fiction-writing workshops, and I wrote on and off. Eventually, I finished a manuscript, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t good enough, and the few agents I sent it to agreed.
One of the reasons my book failed is because I didn’t try hard enough and probably because I didn’t let myself fail enough. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is, “Your success will be determined by how well you deal with failure.”
Almost every single novelist I’ve admired talks about how much they failed, about how their novel was rejected a thousand times before one person accepted it. Or about how they wrote a horrible novel before they wrote a really good one. Or about how they were writing a novel and couldn’t finish it and put it down and then wrote another bad one and then went back to the good one and it sold like 15 years later. Very rarely is there a direct path to success. You have to be willing to fail, and I have not yet learned how to let myself do that. Five rejections were all it took for my manuscript to get stuffed into a drawer, where it has literally been buried and left for dead.
But lately my creative juices have started flowing again. I write in my head all the time. And I keep getting all these cues from the universe that I should be writing. And I’m thinking I shouldn’t write the novel that agent from so long ago told me to write. I should tell my story the way I always wanted to tell it, and maybe then it would be right.
My friend Ambere gave me the book “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame. She believes that ideas are like these little spirits and, if you don’t tend to your idea and act on it, that it will leave you and find someone else to inhabit and then it will be too late.
Then last night I was reading Vanity Fair in the bathtub. I still love magazines in print, how the pages get all crinkly after I’ve touched them with wet fingers and then stay all perfect and flat and shiny on the pages I haven’t read yet. So there was this amazing article about Francis Ford Coppola where he said, “The secret of life is to say yes all the time. Because when you’re old, you don’t want to say, ‘I wish I’d done this, I wish I had done that.’ When I die I’m going to say, ‘I got to be in the movie business. I got to see my kids go into the movie business. I got to be in the wine business. I got to be in the hotel business. I got to see my father win an Oscar.’ I’m going to be saying all that and when I die I’m not even going to notice.”
Go ahead and ask: Am I going to give this novel thing another try?
The Princess made a real effort this week not to write about baby stuff. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Two Rivers Unitarian-Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Valley’s Interfaith Council and Sanctuary Unidos, is showing a Zoom presentation of the documentary “Welcome Strangers” at 10 a.m. Sunday.