Yeates had it right: things fall apart. But true though that bit of poetic wisdom is, it raises an obvious question: when things *do* fall apart…what do you do with the pieces?
Certainties are few in this life, but if there are any, they’re these: the Universe delights in wrecking our plans; we human beings inevitably make mistakes; and we writers excel at self-abnegation. Put it all together, and you have a great many writers who descend into lacerating auto-sabotage whenever things go wrong.
And because being writers makes us exceedingly clever folks, we of course apply that cleverness to our methods of self-destruction: one mistake is extrapolated into our possessing a global inability to do anything right. One unsuccessful project *must* mean that nothing we ever do will come to fruition, and on and on. And all the while, that sense of failure lurks in the backs of our heads, laughing at us.
I’ve fallen into that trap during this run of ROW80, and I’ll wager some of you reading this have, too. For me, it involved having to scrap one of my main goals, getting behind on writing due to work commitments, and continually failing to make any headway on the writing of this very essay. All of it added up to a big old goose-egg where writing productivity was concerned, and a concurrent feeling of ‘eh, why bother?’ that lasted for a couple of weeks.
But we get over it — either we come back around of our own volition, or we encounter a positive response to our work that inspires us to get back in the saddle, or we read something inspirational online (for example, one of the fine, positive essays on this very blog!). No matter the reason, we pick ourselves up and start trudging forward again, getting back to the business of making words into worlds.
But even then, the sense of failure, though banished for a while, is still hanging around, waiting for us to slip up again, waiting to laugh at us once more. And so the cycle goes.
With that in mind, my question for you jumps back to the beginning of this piece. Having flown, then crashed, then taken to the skies again, what are you doing with the fragments — the memories of the shame, the sense of failure, the anger, the feeling of loss over non-accomplishment, and all the rest of it — left on the ground after you recovered from that harsh landing? Things fell apart…now what will you do with the pieces?
If you follow the modern philosophy of getting past things going wrong, you’ll take those pieces, bury them in the furthest depths of your mind, and try very hard never to think of them again as you get moving once more. But I would argue that by glossing over that darkness, by trying to pretend it never happened, you’re throwing away valuable building blocks that could serve you, and your writing, to great result…that result being another way to form a connection with your readers.
Because isn’t that the end result of everything we do with our words? We craft engaging plots to capture our readers’ attention. We give them relatable characters to keep them interested in those fictional folks’ ultimate fates throughout the course of the tale. We give them peaks and valleys of action and reaction to mimic the ups and downs of real life. And we slip in our own pet themes and philosophies to rest alongside the myriad tiny revelations about the world that we all experience day after day.
And here’s the thing about forming connections: the more universal their basis, the easier readers will find it to ‘link up’ on their end. Everyone’s fallen in love. Everyone’s experienced loss. Everyone’s been hungry, thirsty, sleepy, happy, sad…
…and everyone’s beaten themselves up at least once over a personal failure.
So the next time you’re writing and you’ve hit a downturn in the plot, a nadir for your characters and their efforts, take a little trip to where you buried the pieces of your last spell of crash-and-burn, dig them up, and embrace them. Use them in your prose, make your characters feel what you felt — what we’ve *all* felt — blow by crushing blow.
You’ll have another way of connecting with your readers — one that will resonate and ring true with everyone that experiences it, drawing people in, moving them, and leading them to seek more of your work.
And best of all, those lurking shadows in your head — those negative internal voices that once giggled as they stomped on your creativity, your productivity, your very ability to string words together?
They’ll be working for you.
Who’s laughing now?