Thursday, March 14, 2013

Another Day, Another Fail

Taped to the lid of my laptop in my study is a Post-It which says “Another Day, Another Fail.” I imagine that someone seeing this Post-It, someone who knows I am a writer, might find this overly pessimistic. Why point to failure? Shouldn’t you be warding it off?

Instead of pessimistic, “Another Day, Another Fail” feels joyous to me—a real celebration of the potential of any given moment. It’s an acknowledgement of groundlessness or the constant change of experience and that nothing is permanent—including  success or failure at writing. During a lunch break in my scholarly rewriting on the back porch last summer, I overheard a scientist on NPR talking about how for many, many days he would go to his lab, run the experiment, only to have it fail. “Another day, another fail,” he evenly stated. Of course, he kept going, and eventually, he did obtain interesting results, and something did develop, but it wasn’t guaranteed.
“Another Day, Another Fail” is an equalizer. It puts the same weight on “day” as it does on “fail.” Each moment arises fresh, anew. A moment passes: it contains failure. So what? Another moment arrives. It’s the avoidance of predetermined thought. I try to avoid predicting or evaluating the outcome of a writing session before it begins. If I don’t write a single word, so be it. If I write a ton, so be it.

In “Toward a Phenomenology of Freewriting,” Peter Elbow points to this need to let go of outcome: “In our culture, mastery and control are deeply built into our model of writing. From freewriting I learn how writing can, in contrast, involve passivity, an experience of nonstriving, unclenching, letting go, or opening myself up.”  

To work without expectation, that is the discipline of mindful writing. Or more precisely, to work without any expectation concerning outcome or product (and this is one alignment between mindfulness and process pedagogy). The one expectation is that one keeps trying—that one has a writing discipline. Along the same lines, Mike Rose, in his wonderful early article, “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language,” describes how “unstuck” students were the ones who maintained fluid rules for writing—except for the rule that they would keep trying.

This mindset of openness to the experience prevents suffering in the Buddhist sense of clinging to what is pleasant (a good writing session, an acceptance notification, praise). For me, staying open to the moment is its own reward, is a source of energy, causes a good day for writing. To stay open to the moment is a form of acceptance that can be just as gratifying (well, almost…I admit it, I admit it) as an acceptance note from an editor.
What sort of invention strategy based on groundlessness and acceptance could you imagine for your own writing?  What would that writing session look like?

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