A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to take up book binding. I bought this planner as a PDF and I decided that I was going to print it out and learn how to bind a book. And then I’d carry that book around all year, to be reminded of how important creativity is for me.
So I watched a bunch of Youtube videos, I bought some carefully selected paper, and I got to work. It took me a long time and a free trial of a certain program to figure out how to print out the PDF so that it would fold into a booklet. I folded the pages carefully. I followed the video’s instructions and I sewed them together with perfectly even stitches.
So far, so good. The next step was to cut off the edges of the book so that everything was uniform.
This is where things went south. Keep in mind, before I go on to explain the next part, that I had been working on this book for at least three full days. I had invested a lot of time and effort into it and was pretty determined to make the most beautiful book ever so that when people asked me about my planner I could say — “Oh, I made it!” — and then they could gush on and on about how much they’d love to buy one of my notebooks.
So, as the video instructed, I lined up a ruler against the edge of the book and took a craft knife along the edge, following the ruler as I went. Within minutes, the book I had spent so long painstakingly creating was completely ruined. There were deep gouges in the side and the pages were so rough that they stuck together.
And, I am ashamed to admit, I kind of lost it. I was definitely crying. I had spent hours and hours trying to perfect the book and now I would have to start over — there was no fixing it. I was angry at myself for failing at something I had researched so intensely, something I thought I would get right the very first time.
Once I calmed down, though, I went to the printer and I started over. I printed the whole thing from scratch, told myself to breathe, and managed, somehow, to get over it.
Later that night, once I had weathered the storm of unnecessary anxiety, my dad gave me some pretty important advice. He told me to stop expecting that I’m going to be an expert at something the first time I do it. To just be willing to try something and fail miserably when I do. To let go of the idea that you need to be perfect at something to do it.
He said, just try again. Just see what happens the next time. So I did. And I finished the second book. And, it wasn’t perfect. But then I made another one. And another. And that was two years ago, and my notebooks look a little bit straighter, a little bit neater now. They still aren’t perfect. But maybe one day they will be.
And that’s okay. Because I love doing it. I love carrying around a notebook that I made myself and I love giving them to my friends. It feels like I’ve really accomplished something when I’m writing in a book of my own creation, no matter how crooked the cover is or how bubbly the glue I used to attach the fabric has become.
Since then, I’ve let go of the idea that I need to be good at something to do it. I let go of it when I started this blog, when I opened an Etsy store, when I finally finished the first draft of my novel. And I am still very much a beginner at all of those things, and I’m still not doing any of them well, but I’m here and I’m going to keep on trying until I get there.
Today, I’m going to start editing the first full draft of my novel. I sent it out to a few first-time readers and now it’s my turn to finally read it, start to finish, and start thinking about how to make it really shine. And the thing is — I’m sure I’m going to fail. I’ve been editing and rewriting this thing for years, and I know for a fact that this time around isn’t going to finish it, isn’t going to make it the book that I dream it will be.
But the thing is, I fucking wrote the thing. I sat down at my desk (and my bed and in coffee shops and on my couch) and I wrote. I worked my ass off. And it exists, and it might never be perfect, but I learned a lot while working on it. And the next book will probably be better, and so will the one after that.
All I’m saying is, you’ve got to be willing to fail. You’ve got to be willing to put it all on the line, even if the end is not guaranteed to be the result you want and dream of. Because otherwise, you’ll never move forward. You’ll stand inside the box of things that you know and you’ll live in that box for the rest of your life.
But if you’re willing to try, and willing to fail, you’ll learn new things, you’ll see new things, you’ll gain new experiences that will add depth and character to your life.
So here I go, off to probably fail again. But also, here I go, off to learn.