The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 26: Releasing the Fear of Failure

In Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, there are wonderful lessons and sage advice aplenty for writers and other creatives.

In the chapter, “A Short Bad Book,” Shapiro shares the story of one of her friends who wrote a prizewinning best-selling novel by telling herself she was going to write “a short, bad book.”  Anytime she talked about the book, this friend referred to it as her short, bad book. This strategy, Shapiro tells us, “released her from her fear of failure.”

Shapiro says that, as writers, “the more we have at stake, the harder it is to make the leap into writing,” and shares her own story of getting an assignment to write for The New Yorker, only to sit down each day to work on the piece and not get any actual writing done.

Instead, she imagined what the piece would look like in New Yorker font, and wondered if it would have an illustration, and what that illustration would be.  But she couldn’t write. “I was strangled by my own ego, by my petty desire for what I perceived as the literary brass ring,” she says.

Eventually she did write, of course. She put words together that made sentences, and sentences that made paragraphs, and paragraphs that made pages, and pages that made a finished article. And she was published in The New Yorker.

I find the “short, bad book” strategy really useful.

When I worked in politics, we called it “lowering expectations.” What you do before, say, a debate with other candidates or a particular primary, is lower expectations of how your candidate is going to perform, then when said candidate does pretty well against the now lowered expectations, you come out smelling like a winner.

When writing this 30 day blog post series, I wasn’t all that concerned with failure, per se, but I was at least a little worried about the quality of the daily posts. I knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to spend as much time as I usually do on blog posts – several hours – if I wanted to publish daily and take care of client work and other obligations too. What I did to psych myself up to put fingers to keyboard and just write, already, was to tell myself that I would not devote more than an hour, hour and a half, tops, to writing, uploading and formatting each day’s post.

I also told myself that most of the posts wouldn’t be much more than a “shitty first draft,” to use Anne Lamott’s wonderful phrase, with a little light editing thrown in to create a draft that was a little less shitty, and just ever so slightly more polished than a first draft, and that’s what was going to get posted to the blog each day for the duration of the project.

So, in essence, I was using the “short, bad blog post” strategy. Now truth be told, I hope they aren’t really bad, but I know they aren’t stellar either. But the point was to publish every day for 30 days come hell or high water, shitty first drafts or lightly edited second drafts or whatever the case may be.

And the “short, bad blog post” strategy got me to do the work, instead of belaboring every comma, semicolon and turn of phrase right into do-nothing writing paralysis.

So far, so good, with 4 more days to go.