Dear Jeff Goins, Stop Reading My Diary

For the record, I don’t keep a diary (anymore); I believe these days they call it a “blog.” And actually, I wish Jeff Goins was reading my diary (blog).

But that is neither here nor there. Which doesn’t make sense, does it? How can something be neither here NOR there? By the very definitions of here AND there, something would have to be one or the other.

My next post will be: Lessons in Colloquialisms. (No. It won’t.)

Moving on.

I received Jeff Goins’ weekly (bi-weekly? Monthly? I don’t know, I don’t pay that much attention.) newsletter the other day and for an otherwise nonviolent piece of email, it bashed me squarely between the eyes. (Why so mean, email?)

Just in case you aren’t subscribed to his newsletter (what kind of person ARE you?!), here’s what the heaviest hitting parts said:

So when do you ship and when do you wait? When is it okay to go over budget and extend your deadline? That’s up to you and your gut.
Learn to trust your artist instincts (and the counsel of others). But at the end of the day, it’ll still feel risky. And it is.
The thing to not do is stall. No one is going to pick you. Whether you wait or not is your call. You’re the one who has to live with the consequences.
My suggestions?
Be brave. Fail fast. And make it count.

See, here’s the thing. I am naturally good at very few things.

And the vast things I am not naturally good at…I quit.

I don’t enjoy these things, I don’t give them time to become enjoyable, I don’t give myself time to improve, because what if I never do? I don’t like feeling mediocre, in anything. It’s why I quit tennis and piano; it’s why I have an unused easel in our den, across the room from a sewing machine that has grown dusty.

So even though I love to write, and it is one of the very few things I am naturally more than mediocre at, I hoard my words like a miser. I scrutinize each one, I demand them to perform and to perform flawlessly. And because they are not yet (ever?) flawless, they remain stashed inside my pocket, tucked against my cheek.

But things are threatening to overhaul that way of thinking.

Be brave. Fail fast. And make it count.

You see, I have words, words strung together to form stories. Some stories are finished, some are still being strung. There are one or two that are waiting to be shipped but I have given myself permission to hide them until they are flawless (don’t tell Jeff Goins).

But there are many, many more that are guaranteed to be an exercise in failing. That is, if I can loosen my grip on them long enough to toss them in the air and duck for cover.

And I’m going to need your help.

At least with the failing part.



Filed under Writing

21 responses to “Dear Jeff Goins, Stop Reading My Diary

  1. Failing seems to be a focus for me this year. Namely, overcoming the fear of it. Looking it in the face and saying defiantly, “You can’t stop me!”

    I like what Jeff said. Fail fast.

    The longer you drag it out and subsequently let it marinate, the more power it has over you.

  2. EllieAnn

    *chants* Do it! Do it! Do it! Do it! Chug the whole gallon of chocolate milk!!
    Wait, what are we talking about?
    Oh, writing.
    Have you had them looked at by betas? if so, then push them outta the nest and let them fly! words were meant to be read not collected. LoL.
    I’m only saying this because I am very selfish and want to see your stories.

  3. Good word, Jess (and Jeff)! Hmm, “fail fast” flies in the face of my fears. I might as well embrace failure, like diving into the deep end, instead of walking around the edge, hoping I don’t slip in.

  4. Failure is a concept talked about a lot in our house. Vivian has my perfectionist tendencies, so we spend a lot of time talking about how failure is the only way to learn anything. A baby learns to walk by failing (and falling). Of course, inasmuch as I’m talking to her, I’m talking to myself.

    I hear ya.

    Good words from you and Jeff.

  5. It’s so hard to let our words go out in to the real world! But it can be freeing at the same time. When I sent the first 30 pages of my WIP to a test reader, I cringed while I waited for her feedback. I was so sure she hated it and was going to say it was a piece of crap. But she didn’t! And that was amazing. So, friend, take the risk and let a few of those stories come out to play. It’s worth it.

  6. It bothers me ever so much when a photo I take doesn’t work like I’d hoped. There are times I do fear that failure because if I’m taking the photo in a professional capacity — and nearly all the photos I take are in such a capacity — then that’s one photo I can’t deliver to the client. I HATE THAT. But here’s the thing: the photos that DON’T work do the most to teach me how to get the photos that DO work. The failed photo that makes me mad eventually ends up bringing about a successful photo that makes me happy and that makes my portfolio better.

    A couple years ago I was talking to a local middle school photography class, and one of the questions a student asked was something along the lines of “What do you need to know to be a photographer?” (That’s probably not anywhere near the actual wording of the question, but you get the idea.) I thought about it for a moment and told them that to be a photographer, you need to know how to handle failure. You’ll shoot a lot of photos, and you’ll end up with shots that are just plain bad. For instance, if I shoot 500 photos at a high school sporting event, I’ll typically end up with 50-80 that I’ll actually want to publish (and 15-20 that I’ll send to the newspaper). The rest range from nondescript to awful. If you can’t accept the failure and find something to learn from it, you’ll be miserable and you’ll never grow as a photographer. This applies to plenty of endeavors, but photography is the one I know.

    Also on the topic of failure: last year I read a fascinating article from a therapist who said she’s found herself counseling young adults whose seemingly healthy upbringings (intact family, loving parents, etc) gave no clue as to why they would be so unable to handle adult life…until she discovered that their parents had so sheltered them from risk and from failure that when they reached adulthood and could no longer be sheltered, they couldn’t handle it. I found that fascinating.

    In conclusion: I tend to shy away from risk and I hate failure, so it’s strange that I ended up as a self-employed photographer — my business is all risk and regular failure (as explained in the second paragraph — it’s not ALL failure!). It’s almost like God is involved or something.

  7. Sorry for all the e-violence. Glad to hear you’re applying it, though. Thanks for the “kind” words and for going for it. Here’s to failing fast.

  8. Yep. I’m a word-hoarder, too.
    I sweat every one in each sentence I write.

    And since there are endless ways to express a single sentiment (variations upon variations upon variations), I get caught in the vortex of a deconstructionist who questions WHEN I’ve said what I meant in the very best possible way.

    But. At some point, we simply must leap, right?
    And trust that the parachute will open.

    Then, if the parachute does not, in fact, open, we must trust our friends to break the fall.

    So. Consider me one of your friends…out there blowing wind into the parachute and ready.
    No matter what comes.


    • Do we have to leap? Can’t we just wear the parachute around Target and be like, “Yep. I’m a skydiver. See my parachute?”

      No. Of course not. I know that. But the leap is SO MUCH SCARIER than the fall. I think. I’ve never skydived (skydove?) before.

  9. Generally the most successful people in the room are the ones who’ve failed the most. As a great man I know says, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.” But you are good at writing and have a unique ability to be insightful, moving, and nutball goofy. DO IT.

  10. I spent years and years writing but never showing my work to anybody. I finally realized I would never really be finished. A story has too many thousands of potential divergent paths and I realized I would never reach a final destination feeling that everything was perfect and couldn’t be improved upon. You can also work too long on something and the work you see it, the more stale it becomes and you start to remove and edit things that a first-time reader would love.

  11. Marianne

    I need to be ok with failing and I’m not. I need to talk about it more with my kids because I can tell they are getting my angst. It makes life harder, as well. I guess I have some dinner conversation tonight.

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