Lynn Viehl had an interesting post a few days ago about failing at things. In addition to writing about a hundred books a year, Lynn also quilts, and apparently a fiber art quilt* she tried recently was...not good. In her words, this how bad it got:
I now believe contemplating using glitter glue between the beadwork in another effort to disguise said hairiness is the art quilter's equivalent of hitting rock-bottom.I'm sorry, but that sounds just...horrible.** Hairiness and beads AND glitter glue? And Lynn is actually a pretty accomplished quilter and photos of the quilt in progress are quite promising. By the end, though? We have a quilt disaster.
But the point is that she tried. She had an idea in her head about a project she wanted to do and she did it. It turned out badly. But she still did it.
I think that's one of the most important things to learn about any sort of creative work: quilting, writing, visual arts. You should do the stuff you want to do, even if you do it badly. Robert Browning put it this way:
In other words, if you can already write exactly what you want to write, or quilt exactly what you want to quilt, what are you aspiring to? What is pushing you forward?
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?
A lot of people don't do this. They don't step out of their comfort zones and try something completely different and, as a result, their work gets stale and predictable.***, **** And I totally understand why they don't--it's tempting to keep doing the same thing over and over again, especially when that thing got you a lot of praise and recognition initially. The allure of a familiar cannot be overestimated.
Also, it's frustrating to try something new and have it not work out. There's nothing more depressing than seeing all of your brilliant ideas come crashing to earth in a pile of junk. God, that sucks. You have this perfect vision of what the story is going to be or sound like or make people feel, and then it ends up being a heap of cliches and coincidences and hack-kneed writing that you're embarrassed to show to your mom, let alone your critique group. It makes me wince just thinking about it.
But it's important to do it.
I've got a project right now that it so outside what I normally do that I don't know if I can do it at all. If I can, it will be amazing, and I will be proud of myself for even finishing it. If it doesn't, it will be heartbreaking, and I'll be so discouraged that I might give up on that type of project forever (just like Lynn might give up on fiber art quilts). But I'm going to give it a shot. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, well, that's between me and my MacBook Pro.
* Fiber art quilts are the kind that are made up of bunch of different materials and are...well, arty. Who'm I kidding? I don't know anything about them, but the pictures on Google are quite interesting.
** And it is--here's the picture that Lynn posted. Wow. That is...not good.
*** Or worse, it devolves. Think of authors you used to enjoy whose new stuff feels like a rehash of everything they've done before.
**** Some people don't think this is a problem, of course. I once saw in interview with Def Leppard in which the interviewer asked them when they were going to stop making the same record over and over again. Their response: "when you stop buying it." I sort of loved Def Leppard for this response, but I wouldn't want to be asked that question in the first place.