Morning has yawned its way into my life once more. My muffin is crumbs, and I'm working on my first cup of coffee. I’ve fed the Queen of the Universe her tuna; fed and petted the stray cat I started feeding a month ago; and given my geriatric Labrador her meds and her breakfast. The sky is waking slowly, like me, slipping into its day colors one ray at a time.
It’s January, and I’m sitting in my clean and tidy office. This, for those who’ve never visited my office, is a rare and newsworthy event. Most of the time it looks like an oversize version of your junk drawer. You know the one I mean, where rubber bands tango with extension cords, battle with batteries, and wind themselves around ancient whatchamacallits whose purpose is lost in the fogs of time, yet they look so obscurely useful you can’t bear to throw them out.
I am resolved to keep my office tidy this year.
Many people say they’ve given up on the whole business of New Year’s resolutions. Why bother? They know they’ll just break them. The author of a wonderful little book called THIS YEAR I WILL agrees . . . mostly. A resolution, by itself, does not bring change. And yet, as surely as bears are drawn into their dens to hibernate when the weather turns cold, I’m drawn to change when the old year clicks over to the new. And so I spent December 31 cleaning out my office, and for the past three days I’ve been writing to-do lists and checking things off.
Will this be the year I actually stay organized? Do things on time? Am able to find whatever piece of my personal paper trail I need at a given time? Who knows? Two things I’ve learned: first, I won’t change if I don’t give change my attention. It’s too easy, too comforting, to go through my days on autopilot. Second, I have to be willing to fail. In fact, I’m certain I’ll fail many times—forgetting to check my to-do list, or to even write it out. Forgetting appointments. Losing the one bit of paper I need to finish my taxes.
And that’s okay. I am aces at failure. Almost as good as Michael Jordan, who missed over 9000 shots and lost 300 games. Or Thomas Edison, who famously said, "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
The key to success, as the Chinese say, is to fall down seven times. Get up eight.
I wrote for years, finishing five books, before I sold. I teeter on the abyss of failure with every book—shoot, with every page. And every book fails in some way. (So far they’ve all failed to hit the New York Times list, for example—darn it!) There’s no doubt in my mind that my newest book, NIGHT SEASON, will fail to please some readers. Too much romance, maybe, for some of the sf crowd; too much general weirdness, maybe, for some of the romance crowd. And that’s okay, too. Because other readers will like it. A few will love it and write to tell me so. (Note to those so inclined: please do!) And regardless of how many readers like NIGHT SEASON or hate it, love it or never even notice it, I’ll have to get up, feed my little furry family and myself, drink my coffee, and face the terror of the blank page in my current work-in-progress.
Oh, and in my book, too.
If you give NIGHT SEASON a try, you’ll see that change is a theme there as well. I don’t just kick my stubborn, cynical protagonist out of her comfortable rut—I knock her clear out of this world into a strange new one where the rules are different, bad guys with lots of teeth are after her, and the only way home involves the thing she’s worst at: trust.
And now it’s time for me to return to that blank page and see how many times I can fail today. Lots, I hope, because that means I’ve kept going, kept reaching, kept my attention on the process, not on an unattainable perfection. I’ll close by wishing you a wonderful 2008 filled with lots of bright, shiny failures—and even more getting up, trying again. And succeeding.