I had an epiphany this past weekend as I walked desolately out of Croke Park Stadium (the headquarters of Gaelic Football in Ireland) with a strained voicebox, tear streaked cheeks and a very heavy heart. I had just endured an agonising game of football watching my home county (Kildare) suffer a heartbreaking defeat by 13 points to a superior Cork team.
For those of you planning on clicking away once the word football has been mentioned, I promise this post is still about writing, just bear with me!
A sea of white jerseys engulfed me as we marched out the gates of the Cusack Stand, the routine, expletive-laden post match dissection being the only conversation emerging from our lips. We all had our say as to what went wrong, who played badly, who let the side down and where we could go from here. But that familiar sense of hopelessness and despair hung ominously between us in the air, like the stench of a stale beer fart at 3am in a nightclub; the one that no one wants to claim ownership of.
The majority of my 24 years on this planet has been spent cheering on Kildare (my home county) in the All Ireland Gaelic football championship, a championship that they have not won since 1928 so as you can imagine I've experienced a vast amount of heartbreak, disappointment, desolation, tears and anger. My father and my father's father have also experienced these feelings of dejection as have most of the people who live within Kildare. Yet we continue to cheer them on in our droves, year after year, success or failure.
I'm very familiar with the concept of failure as a writer because it terrifies me to my very core. In fact I'll be honest, much of the reason that I struggle to write my novel is because after I write a sentence/paragraph/chapter that I'm happy with, my automatic response is "well it's never going to be published so why bother being happy with this? In fact why bother writing any more?" And before I know it, the laptop is powered off and I'm in the sitting room eating chocolate and guiltily watching episodes of ER, Sex and the City and Friends to the point that I'm miming entire chunks of dialogue along with the cast (although seeing as Carrie Bradshaw is a writer, SATC technically counts as writing practice... Right?)
It's a sad way to be because the fear of failure actually deters me from writing. I can fully picture myself having the completed manuscript of my book (whenever it's finished!) locked in a drawer in my desk because I'll be too terrified at the thoughts of rejection and failure to send it to an agent. Ah yes, the fear of rejection reared its ugly head in puberty and has decided to park itself there for the remainder of my life.
But I ultimately have to face up to the fact that failure is a big part of a writers life. Just like it is for a football team and their legion of loyal fans.
Charlie Chaplin said "it takes courage to make a fool of yourself". I certainly don't consider those players as having made fools of themselves but the courage it takes to expose yourself and represent your county in front of a crowd of nearly 60,000 people with no room for mistakes is fully blown awe-inspiring, never mind courageous.
So how is it that these players can put their dignity, health and heart on the line in front of crowds of people every week in front of people who are just waiting to criticise their talent and point out their mistakes and yet here I am, terrified to send my (unfinished) novel to an agent at the fear of being laughed at by one little person hiding behind their desk (Jesus, I really hope no potential agents are reading this blog...). These footballers leave themselves wide open to critiquing en masse and even when they fail, they pick themselves up, regroup and move on to the next game.
It's been said that "A man's greatest glory doesn't consist in never falling, but in rising every time he falls". To be honest that quote (like so many other quotes that I feel I'm supposed to take inspiration from) never really appealed to me because I've always found it difficult to see the positive in negative situations. Yes, I'm an eternal glass half empty type.
But after this weekend's outing in Croke Park, something shifted for me. Why is failure something to be feared? If you can stare down the barrel of the gun, face failure full on, take the risk and make the leap of faith, you've already showed more courage than many people will in their lifetime. And if you've faced that much fear and uncertainty, why would there be a problem in brushing yourself off and rising up if you fall? And besides how can we truly savour and enjoy the long awaited feeling of success if we haven't experienced the very depths of failure?
Go for it, take the plunge, aim for that point, write that chapter, make that call. I wrote this blog after the match (and it's been over a month since my last blog post) because I felt inspired, a feeling that I hadn't felt in a while. And for the first time I don't care if no one reads it apart from me. I don't care if it's voted "Worst Blog Post in the History of Writing Ever". Well, actually, that might sting a little, but who cares - I did it, I wrote it and I pressed publish and made it public.
So with that in mind I'll hang up my white jersey until early next year when I'll wear it with pride supporting the lads again, rain or hail, success or failure because that's what life is about. And the minute I put the final full stop to the final sentence of my manuscript, you can bet that it'll be sent directly to a litany of agents and publishers. And if it doesn't get picked up, I'll persevere and persist and I'm making a promise to myself now to never give up on that.
Life is for taking chances. Who cares if we fail? At least if we have a goal, an aim, a higher place to aspire to, then the only way to go is up.