STARTING SOMETHING

I started writing a novel today.

It’s a strange thing, starting something. I always seem to have a nervous energy when I begin a project, and that energy is always somewhat driven by fear. Fear of failing. Fear of it not being as good as I can picture it. Fear that this time when I put pen to paper I’ll find my ability is gone, that the spark of creativity in me has fizzled out and I’m boring again. It’s irrational, but I’ve found a way to overcome it.

Start anyway.

This seems to be the hardest part. That first burst of motivation and inspiration. Until that initial moment of creation, my idea is perfect. It’s in the starting that I open the door to faults and flaws, that I can introduce my imperfect technique and see my ideal concept become something common. Of course the irony is that a concept is nothing, and so much lesser than a flawed something.

A lesson that has recently crystallised for me is one of the path to success. My sister once showed me a diagram that displayed the two perceived paths to success. On the left was a road that diverged to two outcomes: Succeed or Fail. This is the commonly believed path to success. Win or lose. To the right was an image of a road which zigzagged, and at each bend was a signpost which read “fail.” But at the end of the road was a trophy which read “succeed.” The actual path to success.

The problem with the former view is you only get one chance; you win or you lose. There’s no room for error in this path to success, and this makes starting something a nerve-racking voyage to make. With this concept in your head you launch yourself into the unknown and are snatched down the first time you trip up. Done. You failed. Thanks for playing.
This daunting potential for failure can be enough to stop someone from even starting. Much safer to avoid the risk and stay off the path all together.

Luckily this view of success is entirely wrong.

It’s the latter that encapsulates any experience of success I’ve ever had. This truth became starkly apparent when I first attempted to crochet a beanie. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that after envying a beanie my cousin owned I set out to duplicate the garment. Since then I’ve made about ten beanies and it’s gotten to a point where a person can’t visit my house without leaving with crocheted wool draped over their head. This end result shows I succeeded in my goal. But that was the end result; the path to that point was a bloody mess.

To begin my beanie I first had to master the initial ring of stitches. It’s called the magic circle. The magic of this circle proved to be its ability to provoke a string of curses from a man who normally remains quite calm. The wool slipped from my fingers, the hook refused to weave through the gaps I wanted it to, and the stitches were either too loose or so small that no grown man’s fingers could hope to navigate them. After hours of work, after a conglomeration of failures, I had a rather rough, but technically correct, magic circle.

I then laboured in mastering the following rings of stitches. After hours of studying the YouTube tutorial I was watching, stopping, rewinding, rewatching, and stopping, I had added a further six rows to my creation. I was feeling good, I was about halfway through, and the tangle of stitches was starting to resemble a beanie.

But as I bent to watch my online teacher begin the next ring I noticed something. Her needle was slipping through two loops each time she made a stitch whereas mine was only slipping through one. I looked back at my work and immediately saw the neglected loop I had been failing to hook with each stitch. While my beanie still held together, the missing loop meant that it wouldn’t be as strong as it should be and prone to stretch. I was doing it wrong. I would have to start again.

It should have been demoralising to have to pull apart the hours of hard work I had spent sweating over wool and crochet needle, but in all honesty it was a relief. I didn’t trust my new skills enough to presume I had been proceeding errorless, and I now felt I had caught my error. I may have been back to nothing more than a tangle of wool and the prospect of reattempting the magic circle, but I had learnt from my mistakes, which meant this time I would do it right.

And this is the lesson of the latter: the path to success is littered with failure. But each failure isn’t a slipping down a snake back to the start, it’s a step forward with new knowledge earned from that failure. Each mistake I made was a lesson in how not to do it, meaning all other attempts were done with a higher ratio of success.

With this in mind, starting something is a much easier journey to make. I may trip the minute I step onto the path, but each trip is something I can improve on, and something that is now behind me.

So today I started my novel. I did it with the belief that all errors I made could only, inevitably, make it better.

For those of you playing at home, the first word of my novel is “The.” An auspicious start in its vast scope for potential words to follow.

And it can only get better from here.

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous · September 9, 2013

    Love it jprobb…I might just share it with my students!

    • jonathanrobb · September 9, 2013

      Thanks Georgie, I’d be honoured if you did

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