A Fairy Tale

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

It was 2 AM. As my fingers moved across the keyboard, words sprang onto the surface of my laptop screen like drops of tar. Word count revealed that I had only written 500 words today. Unacceptable. Stephen King averaged 2000 words a day. I had to keep up. Disregarding how the stream of words popping up on the screen contradicted the story line, I continued to write.

My desire to write a novel had been born out of envy. I felt painfully ordinary in comparison to my classmates who each seemed to possess a ream of talents that outshone my own. I craved a success, and I thought writing a novel would be a suitable solution.

I began the endeavor with enthusiasm, titling my work-in-progress The White-Haired Princess. Even though the characters I came up with were beings of another world, by fleshing out their physical features, fears, and histories in my mind, they became satisfyingly human: Aia, the brazen queen, Sarah, the eerie princess, and Geoff, the cruel prince. I wondered what sort of childhood could have made Geoff calloused enough to kill forest animals in front of fragile Sarah, and how much of Aia’s harsh treatment of her daughter contributed to her meek disposition. Late at night and early in the morning, I would huddle over my keyboard pondering these questions. The world was submerged in sleep, but I led myself to a realm teeming with animation. I was enthralled by my daily discoveries.

However, it was not long before the novel-writing sessions became less than romantic. My impatience for success soured my ventures into the fairytale world: why was I trying to figure out what Aia liked eating for breakfast when there was a plot that needed furthering before I could reach the ending that would catapult me towards success? The writing sessions mutated into long periods of frustration: I typed and typed and typed without interludes of contemplation. I was no longer bringing my story to life but merely churning out senseless words.

There was a painful contrast between the miserable final days of forcing myself to type the would-be novel and the jubilant sprees of flying fingers that I had experienced at the beginning of the project. It served as evidence that the desire for the end result can be the very force that prevents the achievement. A genuine heart that enjoys every step of the process is just as valuable as success, for how can authors be lauded as masters of writing when they feel no attachment to their own stories? Ultimately, both the process towards success and success itself merge into a means for me to understand myself. If I had continued to plow through writing sessions, the sad heap of pages that would have resulted would be meaningless. What gave the stories meaning was that my mind had danced with various story lines, throwing some of them away but learning lessons from all of them. Their waltzes brought forward ideas that resonated within me until my imagination became clearer than it ever was before.

The end of my experience with The White-Haired Princess was not the triumph I had imagined, but it was an experience that satisfied its conception: I no longer felt anxious comparing myself to my classmates. An achievement is not valuable because it is a giant trophy, but valuable because it symbolizes dedication to the project that brought it into being. I had not gotten my hands on the trophy, but I had discovered the key to what makes a trophy so coveted. It is, at its best, a symbol of who you are and where (imaginatively, in my case) you’ve been.

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