In today’s culture of “go big or go home,” I think there’s a tendency to put the arts in a box labeled “talent or not.” Talent can be a dangerous word for an artist because it implies a high chance of success for each attempt.
The problem there is that we often don’t give ourselves permission to fail and end up creating unnecessary stress and tension in our creative lives.
Creativity is playful. It wants to be messy, to experiment. To create. That is its own reward. It helps to understand that some writing days and projects are mess, and that’s okay.
A master carpenter didn’t walk up to a lathe one day and turn out a perfect spindle. He spent years studying his craft, practicing various techniques, and learning to feel the machine and wood together.
Likewise, an award-winning designer first had to cultivate knowledge of color theory, texture, and form, and spend a lot of time arranging, rearranging, experimenting, and trying out different theories.
Writers are no different. If you want to publish, there’s pressure to “not waste time” and produce only publishable material.
Creativity doesn’t care. It doesn’t know failure. It just knows the process.
If it helps, think of it as permission to experiment. Or permission to practice.
Here’s a quote from the author of Booklife:
One of the things I always loved about the brilliant English writer Angela Carter was her fearlessness. I think she always gave herself permission to fail, and she didn’t care. She wouldn’t have cared if she’d written ten stories that never saw publication if that got her to a place where she’d be able to write one truly extraordinary piece.
I don’t know where the idea came from that writers didn’t need to practice and play. Of course we do. Writing is no different in that respect than woodworking or playing a sport. The more we practice and play with writing, the better we get (and the more ideas we are likely to generate). It’s how we challenge ourselves and how we stretch and grow as writers.
Stories that go nowhere or die before they reach 10,000 words are practice. Writing to a prompt is practice. Experimenting with POV is practice. Trying a scene a couple different ways is practice.
Being an artist or having talent does not mean you are required to produce something useable every time you sit down to write. Give yourself permission to play, to experiment, and yes, to fail. The benefit is that the more you do, the better your odds and producing something truly special.