Writing Is An Experiment
Sometimes it will fail
Back in January, I billed 2022 as one big experiment. Starting this Substack newsletter was part of that. My motto was “Let’s try it and see what happens.”
Thankfully my weekly article writing as gone well. Mostly, I have something new to write and your comments and likes tell me that I’m saying something useful. I’m still figuring out how to get more paid subscriptions. Let’s call that a work in progress.
But other things from the great 2022 experiment haven’t worked. Getting a job in a coffee shop back in March was disastrous. It was too much for me physically and tipped me back into my long-covid fatigue. Although I’m much better now, I’m still not as physically robust as I was before starting that job.
The other decision I made in March was to sell an apartment that I rent out in London. It started off brilliantly with three offers all over the asking price. But then it went downhill. My buyer failed to get a mortgage. She tried four different banks and for one reason or another they wouldn’t give her finance. Now the deal has collapsed and I’m going to rent it out again.
The whole thing has been exceptionally stressful and also has played a part in my fatigue. I’ve taken a financial hit but the effect of my ill-health has been the most damaging.
That’s the thing with experiments. We don’t know how they will turn out.
You might have a desired result but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it.
Experiments can fail in your writing too
A brilliant idea for an article might turn out to be a bit “meh!”
The romance novel you thought you were writing turns a bit darker and now you’re not heading towards a happy ending.
The blog post that you put so much research into barely causes a splash despite you being convinced that it had the potential to go viral on social media.
The novel that you’ve slaved over for the last five years got shredded by beta readers and now you’re doubting the whole project.
There is no certainty in creativity
That’s the thing about creative pursuits. There isn’t a guaranteed outcome.
You can write the most gripping novel, with beautifully crafted prose, spend years getting it published and then only sell a handful of copies.
This is why you need to focus on the process, not the outcome. Once a piece of work is finished you can’t control how it is received. The only control you have is to start the next one.
You need to expect that some of your writing won’t turn out well.
Experimenting is how you learn
It doesn’t matter if you are 30,000 words into a story and realise that you’re not feeling it anymore. You will still have learnt something and polished your skills. Maybe you have discovered that you don’t like that topic or the writing method didn’t suit you. This knowledge can be put to good use in your next project.
I remember having a chat with one of my artist friends. She said that for almost a year, every painting she attempted didn’t pan out. You could see that as a waste of time, and canvasses, but in each one she learnt a new technique and had honed her artistic practice. Eventually that effort paid off but she wouldn’t have got the good results without also producing a pile of crap.
Writing is a case where quantity can lead to quality – not just in building your skills but also with mindset. If you have written a hundred articles and a few of them bomb, this is less of an impact than if you’ve only written two and one was awful.
The more you write, the better you will become and the more ideas you will generate. Some of them will be good and some won’t.
The paradox of detachment
It is a paradox that you need to be dedicated to the craft of writing and be disciplined with your work, but also not be over attached to what happens.
If you’ve written a novel there has probably been a time when you have thought of it as your baby. You spend so much time with it and it becomes deeply embedded in your heart. You want to keep working on it even when it doesn’t seem rational to continue. When it isn’t received as you would wish, or you just can’t get to an ending, or you can’t figure something out – it can feel like a very personal failure. It doesn’t seem fair, especially after all the work you’ve put into it.
You must learn to create distance and detachment from your work. It’s just a piece of writing. It’s some squiggles on a page. It doesn’t define your value as a human being.
In my early years of writing, I was very attached to my work, especially as my novel was about finding love and I was still single. Reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert helped me to separate the story from my own worth. I was then able to be more objective and figure out what it needed as a piece of fiction and to be pleasing for the reader.
These days I am much more open minded about what I write and how it turns out. This is part of the paradox because feeling free in your writing often leads to it being better. Intense martyrdom is very good at dampening results!
Seeing something as an experiment frees you up to try it and see. You might learn more and achieve more and you will also fail more.
Without being willing to experiment, I would have never have started this Substack newsletter. Ten months later I have hundreds of new subscribers, I’ve written over forty articles and I have made some fabulous connections with other writers. Some things haven’t panned out as I would have wished (yet) but it will only be through further experimentation that I find the best way ahead.
It is worth taking a punt, being creative and speaking from the depths of your heart – even if it doesn’t yield the tangible results that you crave.
Imagine going through life, never following your dreams and then wondering what might have been.
Much better to find out.
Now I’d love to hear from you
How are your writing experiments going? Are they on track or wandering off at a tangent? How have you coped with any recent failure? Leave a comment and share with us. Your take on this subject might be precisely what someone else needs to read.
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