It hit me when I was reading an interview with Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief. After that book's phenomenal success, selling 16 million copies in 30 languages, his publisher signed him up for a new book, gave him an advance and four years to write, Bridge of Clay.
Markus wrote and rewrote the first page thousands of time. He moved on and tried writing other pages and different chapters, but the story just wasn't coming together. He was under pressure from his publisher and fans of his previous books, “It was awful”, he said, “Nothing I did was working, I was just failing and failing, over and over again”. Many times he wanted to quit because he felt deep inside himself, “a barren wasteland of failure”.
He did eventually finish the book. It took 13 years to complete and it was released last week.
Sometimes the words come pouring out like a raging torrent, inexcusably insistent and with a mind of their own. That’s the good days. Other days the page is indignantly blank. It stares back at me resisting all coaxing, pleading and first attempts like a rebellious child determined not to cooperate.
On those days it feels like being in the labour ward trying to give birth, excruciating, and agonisingly slow. For the thousandth time I ask myself why do I think I can write, why would anyone want to read my thoughts? I feel an imposter and sometimes like Markus, a complete failure. Yet something compels me, something deep inside me that is determined to be heard … the passion of my heart.
I love Markus’ honesty and vulnerability. I love that he calls himself a failurist, that despite all his success he’s humble enough to share failures part in that success. It was Winston Churchill who said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” and for Markus that meant persevering again and again for 13 years to see his latest book become a reality.
It takes a certain degree of courage to face repeated failure and not give up but it takes even greater courage to live with transparency. It’s in my willingness to be vulnerable enough to share my feelings of inadequacy and my struggles in all areas of life that I allow others to know they are not alone … to understand our common frailties.
How little we realise the universality of our struggles, that you and I and the man next door are all grappling with similar feelings we’d rather no one knew about. I doubt there is a more illuminating and comforting experience than that moment of connection when with enormous relief you can say, “Oh you too!”
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Brené Brown