In this post: An excerpt from C. S. Lewis' Perelandra, a little bit of my life story, and how failure shaped my writing. For newsletter subscribers: A humorous excerpt from my current work-in-progress, Book One of my Firewing Chronicles.
A few years ago, I realized that I had never really failed at anything.
Don't get me wrong. I've spent my life, like most people, fearing inevitable moments of failure. "What if it doesn't work out? What if I've put all this effort into something that does not create the expected outcome?"
But C. S. Lewis taught me something in Perelandra, the second book of his science fiction trilogy, that changed my mindset.
The Failure That Turned Into Something Better
In Perelandra, the main character Ransom meets the Green Lady, a sort of innocent Eve in a pre-Fall world. When Ransom first meets the Green Lady, she seems at first to recognize him from a distance, then to show confusion upon closer inspection of him. He asks her the reason why. She explains that she had thought he was her husband, who had been gone for a time.
She then explains a fascinating concept: the concept of expected good versus unexpected good.
She had expected her husband, but she had received instead the unexpected good of a stranger from another world.
“What you have made me see,” answered the Lady, “is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before – that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished – if it were possible to wish – you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other... It is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One can conceive a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good.”
The Failure That Turned Into a Website
I've thought a lot on that concept since I encountered it, and the thinking eventually led to a second website, TheUnexpectedGood.com. That's the website where I talk about the things that have gone "wrong" in my life--my chronic conditions and illnesses, my singleness (which a certain Dragon reversed a year ago), my family changes and relocation--and I talk about how each "failure" has led to an unexpected good.
It wasn't the good thing that I expected or planned for my life. But it was a good thing nevertheless, and I was the better for it.
If my family hadn't gone through unexpected changes a few years ago, we would have never moved to the state where I met my husband.
If I hadn't gotten a neurological condition, I wouldn't have been forced to leave the workforce, thereby clearing the path for me to begin writing as full-time as my health will allow.
I hadn't failed. I had been redirected. (Click to Tweet)
Words of wisdom from a friend of mine:
The Definition of Failure
I tried to define failure once, and my attempt went like this:
Failure is not publishing. Wait, but I can publish. Even if I choose to self-publish, that is still self-publishing. Okay, well, failure is publishing and the story never sells well. But what is "selling well"? What if I only sell to one person but it's life-changing for that person? Is the story still worth it? Yes? Then is my story a failure? No. So what is failure?
In the end, the only thing I could find closest to actual failure was not trying at all for fear of failure.
How many things might we lose because we are so afraid to fail? How many things might we gain if we will risk? (Click to Tweet)
Because failure is the language of learning. A milestone along the way to success. A bridge to overcoming.
(Click to Tweet)
(Here's one of my favorite discussions on failure, interestingly enough, by Spanx CEO Sara Blakely.)
The Failure That Turned Into a Series
Working on the Firewing Chronicles, I've been reminded again and again of that. I've rewritten the first book, from scratch, four times now. Maybe, to an editor, that doesn't look like something to celebrate: "She doesn't know what she wants for this series. Come back later, honey, when you have something crystal clear to pitch to me."
But I don't see those previous attempts as failures. They taught me something about my characters, about me, and about the story I was crafting. I needed the failures to recognize the faults so I could fix them. I needed them to slow me down so that I reached deeper into the world of my characters. I know that the story is so, so much better for my failures.
As a celebration of that journey, I'm sharing with my newsletter subscribers a humorous excerpt from the new version of Book One. The series is still a few years out from publication, but, what the heck! Special peeps deserve sneak peeks. If you're not part of my emails, you could be! You get special deals and privileges, I won't spam you, and you get a free ebook out of it too.
What is one of your worst "failures"? How did that failure lead you to where you are today?
If you like something I wrote here, you are free to share/quote it with credit and a link back to the original page on my website.