Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yuvi's Zalkow's Fear & Failure Experiment

Today's post is dedicated to author, Yuvi Zalkow, whose work I first read in the literary magazine Glimmer Train.

I immediately loved reading his quirky voice and was delighted when I rediscovered him through his wonderful blog and hilarious Failed Writer videos.

It's hard to refer to Yuvi as a "failed" writer since his debut novel was released earlier this week.  But that hasn't done much to ease his mind.

Even in the midst of his book launch  the very definition of success for most writers  he discusses his fears.  As a way to commiserate with other writers about fear, he started the Fear & Failure Experiment.  I'm showing support for Yuvi by sharing some of my own fears. 

In the past, I have talked about failure and quitting, (Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo) but this time I'm going to talk about my fear of failure not just quitting outright.  For me, fear of failure is a terrifying issue.  And as usual, I will discuss this in two parts.

A Puzzling Fear
You probably know by now, but I have a puzzling reputation to uphold.  It didn't take me long to conquer the major Rubik's puzzles without much difficulty.  But not long ago, I decided to discard the safety nets and find a new challenge that would put my reputation on the line.

I sent away for a Crazy 3x3 Cube (pictured above).  Now this puzzle is not stocked at your local Toys "R" Us.  It looks like the result of an apple corer and a Rubik's Cube getting into a fight.  Undeterred, I thought, "How hard could this be?  It just has a few more pieces in the centers than a normal Rubik's Cube."

It turns out those tiny pie-shaped pieces brought me to the brink of insanity.

I bought this puzzle when it was first released so I didn't have the luxury of cheating with YouTube tutorials.  I was on my own.  My plan was to very carefully experiment with different tricks and techniques I had learned from the other Rubik's puzzles.  Starting with a solved Crazy 3x3 Cube I thought I could simply determine which techniques I could adapt.  But before I gathered any meaningful data points, the entire puzzle was scrambled beyond belief.  I had inadvertently jumped into the unknown.

It took the entire first night just to get it to the state pictured above.  It may have appeared to be nearly solved, but there were still 24 pieces out of place.  It was past midnight, I had no plan, and I had to work the next day.

For the record, I did not give a second thought to the cube until well after 5pm that following day.  However, a cursory glance through my internet history at lunch just might have shown a frantic search for a video tutorial to solve these tiny pie-shaped pieces.  It was torture.

When I finally got my hands back on this crazy cube I had a primal urge to determine how the pie-shaped pieces moved about the cube.  I felt like Newton and would invent Calculus if need be.

I spent the evening scribbling notes and trying to chart positions.  It was a terrible and cruel shell game.  Pieces moved, but I could not decipher the patterns.  That's it!  I told my wife.  I cannot figure this one out.  This is the hardest puzzle I have ever tried to solve.  I cannot do it.  It's over.

I went to bed defeated.  I had failed.  Was I even worthy of calling myself a puzzler?

On the third evening, I reluctantly picked up the crazy cube.  There was one sequence of moves I rarely used on the normal Rubik's Cube.  I gave it a try.  For some reason, something clicked in my brain and I realized that there might be a way to isolate a pair, or three, or four pieces at a time.  If the pie-shaped pieces could be isolated, they could be swapped with others.  I scribbled more notes and eventually made progress.

It was painful, but before midnight on that third night I solved the Crazy 3x3 Cube.

Writing Fear of Failure
There is no such happy ending with my writing.  I'm still paralyzed by the fear of failing.

For the past several years I have been "working on my craft".  I have told myself that I'm not ready to publish yet because I have more groundwork to lay.  That's not true.

Yes, I will always work on my craft and continue to evolve as a writer until I die.  But that's not the reason why I haven't seriously submitted my work for publication yet.

It's fear.

It's the same fear Yuvi has reading in public.  It's the same fear I had my first day of Kindergarten.  What if no matter how hard I try they don't like me?

What if after years of writing and learning to write I never get anything published?  What if my main character is unsympathetic?  What if my critical plot twist doesn't convince the editor?  What if my voice simply isn't compelling?  What if my first novel isn't commercially viable?  What if my writing is derided at epic levels like EL James'?  What if my ending is predictable?

I don't know how to get over my fears of failing as a writer.  Sometimes I feel like I'm defeated before I have even started.  Like that second night with the Crazy 3x3 Cube.  Maybe I don't have that it factor. 

I'm inspired by people like Yuvi who persisted and journeyed on through over 600 rejections.  But he's special.  He has found his voice.  He has found success.  He is a writer.  He is an author now.

I'd love to open my 601st response letter and finally find success.  But I need to get over my fear of failure because the first 600 submission letters aren't going to mail themselves.

What about you?  How do you deal with fear and failure?


  1. Hey Jason. I'm just here to follow your blog because of the comment you left a YA Confidential. Cool to meet you, man.

    1. Hi Matthew,
      Nice to connect with you! Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!