Risk Being Wrong to Get Life Right
Picture the scene…
A writer sits down at their desk and begins work on a new story.
But before they’ve written a page doubt begins to set in.
The story they want to write is about a wise-cracking jellyfish with commitment issues.
But nobody writes about jellyfish. There’s no way of knowing if there’s a market for it.
What if I’m wrong? the writer’s voice of doubt begins saying on a loop. What if no-one will want to read my story?
Then the writer goes on to Amazon to see what kind of books people are buying.
I need to write a thriller, the writer thinks. Loads of people buy thrillers.
And it needs to have ‘Girl’ in the title – even though it’s about a grown woman.
So the writer scraps their idea about the wise-cracking jellyfish with commitment issues and writes a story about a ‘girl’ on a train / in a window / gone.
But the trouble is, because the writer doesn’t feel passionately about stories featuring girl- women on trains / in windows / gone, and because they are trying to keep everyone happy and get it ‘right’, their writing is flat and uninspired.
And when they eventually finish their novel and send it out to agents, the agents think, ‘Oh yawn, not another book about a girl-woman in a window / on a train / gone‘ and they send the writer a rejection letter, telling them that ‘they just didn’t love it enough‘ or ‘it just didn’t speak to them.’
And when the writer receives their rejections a little voice inside their head says, ‘What if I’d written the story about the wise-cracking jellyfish with commitment issues?’
As Ken Robinson – who writes and speaks so brilliantly on the subject of creativity – once wrote: ‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.’
Yes, being prepared to be wrong can feel like taking a huge risk, but if it works, the pay-off is massive because you will have created something fresh and original; something that will grab the attention and lead to success.
In our imaginary writer’s case, their story about a jellyfish with commitment issues might have provided sweet relief to a jaded agent sick of thrillers about girl-women.
It might have been so fresh and original that it became the next big thing – creating a brand new genre of Jellyfish Lit.
In my own personal experience as a writer, whenever I’ve been brave enough to risk getting it really wrong, things have ended up going really right.
The most powerful example of this is when I wrote a novel made up entirely of emails. This was definitely not the done thing and it crossed my mind on more than one occasion that no-one would want to publish it. But that novel, Dear Dylan, ended up winning a national book award and going to auction, with eight publishing houses bidding for it.
QUESTION: How could being prepared to be wrong free you up in your writing / art / business? What risks would you be able to take? What boundaries could you push – both internal and external? How could it help you create something fresh and original?
Free-write your answers, then risk being wrong for just one day and see what changes.
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