Monday, February 25, 2013

The Brutal Science Of Useful Failure

Nocnitsa is, in a word, pants.

Not all the way, not completely awful, but overall I didn't have a whole lot of fun writing it and it shows. There are some parts in the middle that I had fun with and those parts are probably pretty solid, but the verdict is that it's pretty darn mediocre.

It is my shortest story since Bob Lost His B, partly because I was in the mood to write something shorter, partly because some of it kinda sucked and I wanted to exit stage left as quickly as possible. I might go back at some point and do some salvaging because it has several fun ideas that I really want to make work. I loved the legend of the Nocnitsa itself and all of the references to the Polish babysitter and her stories. Those parts were a blast to write about.

I could probably point out several things that are wrong with it, like how there really aren't enough characters, the main character wasn't that compelling, I plotted too tightly so I didn't have room to surprise myself with plot developments--which is half of what makes writing fun for me. I could say the narrative was far too...monolithic, for lack of a better word...but really, what comes down to is that I don't seem to enjoy writing Twilight Zone-style speculative fiction nearly as much as I think I do.

Any of those things, in any proportion, I guess. The ten ton gorilla is simply that it wasn't a fun story to write.

Which brings me to...


I'm actually glad when I fuck something up like this, either in writing or at work or elsewhere in life.

There's this sentiment out there that failure is the end, that if you screw something up you should just give up.  But the truth is that people who are afraid to fail tend to suck at most things and have unsatisfying lives. Boring people never try anything because they're afraid of failing or they try only once and then don't get back on that pony that just kicked their ass. Successful people thrive on failure, see it as an opportunity to improve. Successful people are masochists and kind of enjoy pain and the occasional bit of public humiliation.

An interesting failure is worth a thousand easy wins, in my book. If you don't break something, you can't see how it works. You see, in grotesque detail, how all the parts of a successful version of what you just fucked up fail to fit together. If you fail bad enough, then some of that sticks with you. You smell it in the air when a project is starting to drift off course. Sometimes you learn something from the experience, take something away. Sometimes you don't have to.

Failure is a direct result of experimentation. Sometimes you just have to throw crap at the wall and see what sticks. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn't. You see that some of it worked, you retain those parts. Or you see it as a sign of what you need to work harder at, or avoid doing in the future.

Most things that you'd classify as failures are not, in an objective view. You feel you've failed, but it's all only relative. If you have a crappy workout at the gym, well, at least you went. You screwed up that recipe, but at least the dog's happy now. You write a ghost story that's kinda dumb, but at least you wrote something and there were bits in all the cruft that were kinda cool that you can utilize later on in a better version of the project.

This week, back to something more fun and bizarre.

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