Mar 242010

This post is extemporaneous, un-edited and un-solicited.  (Have I caveated it enough?)  My struggles to understand writing have reduced to this:  failure must be a significant part of the process.  I hope.  Nothing in my life (perhaps golf?) has prepared me to face failure and utter disgust with my own ability quite as much as the last year and a half, and the last two months in particular, with these little frissons of joy at a sentence, a phrase, a moment captured.  Yet every time I think that my hands have grasped something concrete, it slides away.  It’s character. No, it’s structure.  But what level of structure?  No, it’s the verbs.   I feel like I’m trying to wrap my arms around a jello-mold!  Yet, as my wife has pointed out, I’ve never been more happy, never more satisfied with anything I’ve ever done.  How does failure satisfy you?  How does ineptitude qualify as joy?  But there it is.  My ego has been stripped raw.  My brain fried.  My confidence reduced to doubts about every comma, every verb.  Yet what else would I rather be doing?  Perhaps being attacked by a killer clownfish, but beyond that?

—Richard Farrell

  15 Responses to “Why Is This Damned Thing So Elusive? Thoughts from an Apprentice Writer”

  1. Most days I would rather be attacked by a herd of killer clownfish than be a writer.


    • I take that back, it sounds blasphemous. I’ll just say some days I’d prefer to be attacked by a herd of killer clownfish.


  2. As long as the killer clownfish are just as adorable as Rich’s, I’d go with a herd of ’em, too.

  3. Very cute. You wouldn’t know she had a depraved writer for a father. Of course “somebody” thought up the killer clownfish idea.


  4. Rich,

    You are dead on. I think that writing is an aggrandized, more obsessive form of self-deprecation (and what’s more satisfying than that?). I keep trying to reassure myself by thinking that those who don’t see the moments of failure in their own writing are wrong.

    Casting my vote for the killer clownfish . . . Robin’s herd can have a go at me when its finished.


  5. The light bulb came on…I’ll write about killer clownfish. 🙂 Though it’s impossible to tell from the costume, the alleged clownfish attacking me is actually my son, Thomas. Last Halloween, he wore a great white shark costume…decidely more masculine.

    • Sorry, Rich. I am not good at killer clownfish gender identification yet. Come to think of it I am still not really good at human gender identification. I am still studying.

      So next packet (due a week from today!) I will receive a story entitled ATTACK OF THE KILLER CLOWNFISH.



      • The key to clownfish gender ID is in the dorsal fin. (I don’t know what that key is, but it’s there. Trust me.)

        Be careful what you wish for in the next packet! 🙂

  6. We are all masochists, and unfortunately being hunted by killer clown fish will not change that. Because it is the pain and confusion that drives us forward.

    For me, being the optimist I am, when I experience the failure in writing (and submitting) I think, “great, one step closer to the moment of brilliance, or clarity, or contentment.”

  7. Sounds like you’ve been working with Doug. Just remember: it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s not summer camp. It’s boot camp. You will come out of it as a very dangerous person, with new skills and powers. Use them only for good.

  8. I am not going to call you all a bunch of whiners. Never, sayeth the Shredder. But I’d like to add that what you feel now is nothing compared to the same feeling 30-40 years later, that is, after 30-40 years of that feeling of failure. The sense of falling short of what you wanted to achieve is the SHADOW of creativity.

    If Cheryl is right about failure bringing us closer to perfection, then I am NEXT TO GOD by now!

    One other thing, one of my favourite ever movie lines is in that Tom Hanks movie about starting a professional women’s baseball team. A League of their Own, is that what it’s called? Hanks is the coach. When the women start to complain about how hard they have to work, he says (and this is the immortal line), “OF COURSE, IT’S HARD. If IT WASN’T HARD, YOU WOULDN’T DO IT.” (I can’t vouch for my accuracy here.)

    This is the truth that no one ever talks about: it’s not that you’re all masochists, it’s that artists are drawn to the difficult thing, they want to master something hard.


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