Next up on our tour of failure is Erin Dionne, another “niner” and excellent writer of middle grade novels.
“Do or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”- Samuel Beckett
I fail every day. Multiple times, actually. My life consists of parenting two small kids, teaching full time at a small college, and writing.
And always, every day, failure.
Teaching that night class? Missing bedtime. Papers to grade? The writing time gets ditched. Invited to write a blog post about failure? Blew the deadline. Taking the kids out on a Saturday afternoon? Well, no failure there—but I fight “I should be working” guilt, nonetheless.
People talk about finding “balance,” or “managing the writing life”. I have looked for the elusive balance—it doesn’t exist (at least, not when your kids are three and six). I’ve put systems in place to manage my life (implementing a bullet journal, being really careful about how I spend my time), and something always comes up to smash my carefully constructed house of cards.
But I still go for it.
Yoda’s quote has been my mantra for years. Cheesy, I know, but the distance between “trying” and “doing” is important to me.
Attempting to do something doesn’t cut it for me. I need to bring that book to pass. I need to complete what I start (which is why, when I took up knitting, I wanted to finish that sweater/scarf/hat in one sitting. It was a terrible hobby for me.). But “bringing something to pass” isn’t always pretty, especially the first time around. Pinterest fails are proof of that.
This is also why I’m not all over Pinterest.
Like all writers, I put a lot of effort into my work. I struggle over drafts, agonize over revisions, and stress about reviews, sales, and what comes next. Over and over, I remind myself that as long as I keep doing something, I’m doing something—even if all I’m doing is moving forward in small steps. I eke out those hours—or minutes—to work on my novel. I set aside time to grade those papers. I play with my kids.
Most of the time, I feel like I am failing at all of it: the writing is crappy, I can’t ever get to the bottom of the grading pile, my kids watch too much TV. That’s when Beckett comes in:
“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I first saw his quote on poet January Gill O’Neil’s blog. As much as Yoda encourages me to keep going and keep doing, Beckett gives me the permission to do so badly. I don’t have to succeed every single time I do, I just have to suck a little less next time. For someone like me, who holds herself to unreasonable standards and sleeps very little, this is freeing.
This manuscript stinks? I can make it better with revision.
This class discussion bombed? Next time I’ll approach the topic differently.
Fed the kids leftover mac n cheese and pizza for dinner? Tomorrow we’ll have veggies.
Have I made my peace with failure? Not exactly; because once you do make peace with failure, you slip into the realm of “trying.” Yet accepting the tenets of Beckett’s failure allows me to follow Yoda’s advice. As long as I keep failing better, I keep doing. And that’s success.
Tomorrow, I’ll fail again. Without trying.