“Failure” is such a dirty word.
People in the arts talk a lot about bravery, about having the courage to follow your impulse no matter where it leads. What this means, in practical terms, is that you have to give yourself the right to fail. You have to accept failure, make friends with it.
Still, people don’t really talk much about failure. It’s considered rude, unsupportive.
I failed recently. I failed as a part of the project for which I am writing now. I failed in my first attempt at my Blue Coyote commission.
In December I brought 50 pages of a new play to be read for an invited group at the Dramatists Guild. We spent a very pleasant hour there hearing what I had written. There were good parts and bad, some laughs, some moving moments. When it was all over I heard many nice things, and soon after received many supportive emails and calls.
But it was a failure. Make no mistake about it. I failed.
No one said that to me, of course. I don’t think they were just being polite. I think they didn't say anything because the only person who could really know that I failed was me. Everyone who came to the reading saw the same mixed bag up there that I did, but only I knew the dispiriting truth – I had reached a dead end.
Others could easily have seen this likable mishmash as a promising start. I knew that it was over.
I kinda knew before the reading. I had been running out of gas for a while. I was hoping that something would happen in the reading to prove me wrong, or would appear that would show me the way I needed to go.
What is one to do in the face of failure? My first response was “Abandon ship!” I would call the Coyotes and tell them that I appreciated their support but my experiment was a failure and it was time to move on. I thought about that a lot in the first few weeks after the reading. The thought gave me great comfort.
I never did make that call, though. I wonder why. Was it stubbornness? Gratitude to the Coyotes? A sneaking suspicion that there actually was a play in all that mishegoss if I could just see my way clear to finding it?
Silently, without ever acknowledging it, I accepted that I would try again. Once decided, I had an impulse to jump right in. Pop open the hood and get to work. Fix everything! Save what I liked and toss the rest!
I didn’t do that. Some other impulse, a deeper impulse, told me that anything I tried to do right away would be Band Aids on a hemorrhage. So I suppressed that impulse. Instead I did…nothing.
Actually, that’s not true. I did do something. I thought. I daydreamed.
The first thing to appear was a monologue. Then a new opening scene. Then an idea for a closing scene. Then a new twist on one of the original characters that would make her much more interesting. And before I knew it, my brain was firing again.
Since then, the ideas have flowed freely. I have ideas for new scenes involving libertarians, ventriloquists, and sodomy (have I stumbled on a new title?). I don’t know if any of them will work, but we’re about to find out.
I cannot promise success. I haven’t the faintest idea if any of it will work. But what I have now is the one thing I absolutely cannot write without.
I’m a little excited.
- John Yearley