Chapter 2: Failure

This is part two of my project Ingredients of Fear, where I would peel back the onion and reveal everything that’s been beating me down and holding me back inside. Click here to learn more about The Ingredients of Fear.

I’ve always loved a perfectly new notebook, ripped with the scent of freshly-cut pages. I especially love the way a new notebook always starts with a blank canvass, ready for someone to dive in and start writing in his or her new masterpiece at a moment’s notice.

I have a lot of these notebooks. Probably no less than a dozen, many of them still have their plastic wrappers around them. Yet the only task they’ve had so far was to sit on my work desk, collecting dust as time goes by.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to write, because I certainly have plenty to say. But when push comes to shove and when my pen is about hit the pages — I back out. I don’t want to ruin this perfectly new notebook with my subpar handwriting, ya know?

It’s one thing to be a perfectionist, but it’s another to be so paranoid of mistakes that we end up not doing anything, or worse, giving up.

Ingredients of Fear is a project I’ve conceptualized for months, if not a full year ago. Initially I was quick to draft out my topics, only for the process to stall because nothing I wrote was as good as how I had it in my head.

Like the unused notebooks idling by my desk, I’m petrified by the thought that I simply don’t have enough skills to produce something that could match my ambition. Even as I’m writing this, part of me is still doubting if this is all worth it.

NPR’s Fresh Air was on the radio when I was driving home from work one night, when host Terry Gross asked Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, about her process of writing.

Out of nowhere Elizabeth dropped a truth bomb on me, that “Done is Better than Good.” She mentioned her struggle when writing her first book because her writing was not as good as she had wanted it to be. She had to tell herself that “I would rather publish a mediocre novel than go to my grave with 50 pages of an unfinished manuscript hidden in the back of my desk drawer.”

Done is better than good — these five words resusitated The Ingredients of Fear. Months after being put on hiatus I started contributing to this project again by drafting my ideas down, even as rough and cheesy and downright awful they may be. I started grouping ideas together as themes while crossing others out. Ideas turned into outlines, which formed into sentences, and flowed together into paragraphs that craft a story from beginning to end.

The fear of failure is often worse than what it turns out to be. Like the second you jump into a cold shower or the first time you ask someone out, your heart is beating fast and every bit of your mind is telling you “Don’t do it! You can be doing something safer, or better yet, you can do nothing!”

But even as your mind is talking you out of it, you still gravitates toward it because the funny thing is — you can more than handle it. Your body can raise the internal temperature to combat the cold shower, just as easily as your heart can speed up just to keep the butterflies in your stomach in check.

The same goes for me with writing. The thought of writing a masterpiece may carry a heavy toll, but words are but strings of characters that bring my thoughts to life. None of this may turn out to be as good as what I want to achieve, but if done really is better than good, then I’m already ahead of my game. At least for today.


2 responses to “Chapter 2: Failure”

  1. Sin Avatar

    You should read “Art and Fear”, all the concepts that apply to art also apply to… basically anything in the world- whether it’s writing, playing music, playing sports, even public speaking. Perfectionism leads to paralysis. But the more you do, the better you get. Practice makes perfect, it gets preached so often. But art… or writing for that matter, has a sort of permanence that say, sports or public speaking doesn’t. There’s a paper trail of all the failed attempts and we all want to sweep that under the rug, burn it, destroy all evidence. We want everything we produce to be perfect, every step of the way. But that is so far from the truth.

  2. LettersToLoveBy Avatar

    “Done is better than good” – I like that. It describes my style to a tee. We’re on the same boat where I’m always in constant fear that the end product isn’t as amazing as the vision in my head. Until I learned to let go of some control and started putting thoughts down and allowing myself to add other loves in my life (postcards, letters, ephemera and even a little glitter) as part of the story. There’s always a story to tell, even if it is in snippets.

    This is so amazing already, and your B/W photos? You may not know it but they tell your story on their own. It might not be what you intended them for, but as a reader sometimes its all I need.

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