Icarus, by Alexis Lane Shepard
Last week I spoke about failure. It’s going to be inevitable. And as much as I or others may tell you that tomorrow will be better, you shouldn’t give up, the obstacles can still be overcome – failure hurts.
We stumble and we fall, and the hardest of these scrapes can come when we’re striving more than we have before. There are times when we do more than just what we can. Envelopes must be pushed for progress to be made. Eggs have to break to make breakfast. All of these things require sacrifice… and all of them can and will be costly.
There’s a classic story in Greek mythology of Icarus, son of a brilliant inventor, who tried to fly higher and faster than anyone or anything had before. For his hubris, his wings were melted and destroyed, and he fell miles and miles to his violent death. To this day, people use “so-and-so flew too close to the sun” as shorthand for someone who pushed a boundary just a bit too far.
Writers fly too close to the sun all the time. New concepts are shoved bodily towards store shelves. Beloved characters are violently murdered. Plots take unexpected turns that cause people to stop reading altogether. Some of this can be the result of poor planning or bad writing, but when the writing is executed well and remains true to the essence of the work, and people produce that strong of an emotional response, the effort involved and the risk taken can be considered worthwhile.
There are some who many not take the risk in the first place.
It’s a form of overexposure. It’s a step too far, into uncharted or even dangerous territory. And it doesn’t always pay off. It can backfire. It can turn loyal readers into vocal critics, and vindicate the opinions of naysayers. It can close lines of communication that were once opened, drastically alter the opinions of others, maybe even damage friendships.
Such action may not always be worth it outside of creative endeavors. But I argue that it is always worth taking a risk when creating something new.
Notice that I said that these things can happen. That does not necessarily mean that they will happen. Nothing is inevitable. The old adage “You never know until you try” comes to mind. And consider the fact that some of our most beloved stories come from people who weren’t afraid to take this sort of risk. J.K. Rowling set a coming of age story in the arcane world of boarding schools and cloaked it in the fantastical trappings of magic. George RR Martin takes the pageantry and treachery of medieval Europe and lets it simmer in a slow-cooker right next to heavily implied magic and pretty gratuitous sex and violence. Jim Butcher wrote an entire novel in which his main character, beloved by millions, was dead. Salinger refused to have Catcher in the Rye adapted for film and took shots at our image-saturated culture every chance he got. Over and over again, authors are told “You can’t do that!” and, over and over again, they do it anyway.
You may get burnt. You may lose a part of yourself. You may even fall farther than you’d like.
Or you can play it safe, and never make anything amazing happen.