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Struggling to write that book? Marian Keyes’ words on failure are the ultimate inspiration

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Hollie Richardson
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Woman writing a book

 “The only way to avoid failure is to play it safe and I don’t want to do that…”

We all have a book in us, right? But there are a million things that stop us from actually getting it out there. As Virginia Woolf emphasised in A Room of One’s Own: the space, time and money required to give women the freedom to write doesn’t come easy, even today. 

Imposter syndrome, burnout and fear of failure are also key reasons for not getting those words onto paper. In fact, even bestselling authors experience those nagging doubts when writing. 

Really, they do…

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Marian Keyes, who has authored 14 best-selling novels around the world, has shared her own relatable fears on writing book.

Alongside a photo of a Frida Kahlo notebook on Instagram, she wrote: “This BEAUTIFUL Frida notebook was given to me on Wednesday by my beloved friend Roisin Ingle, for ‘ideas for my new book’.

“So! I’ve made a start!”

Keyes continued: “I’ve a couple of ideas knocking around but with both of them I’m frightened that I’m not talented or brave enough to carry them off. This is NOT a transparent plea for praise! I simply want to talk about limitations.”

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Keyes then shared advice that applies to all areas of our lives. 

“No-one can know their limitations until they hit them - and at that point they might be months deep in a project, 93% of the way up a mountain, 12 years into a marriage. And THEN what happens?,” she added. 

“A salvage operation is what happens. SOMETIMES a bodge job can pull things together, making the outcome acceptable if not ideal. Sometimes waiting things out gives unexpected insight, energy, a fresh perspective. And sometimes we’ve no choice but to give up on it: to fail. Which we - at least I - am terrified by.

“But the only way to avoid failure is to play it safe and I don’t want to do that either. So! I’m going to *try* to write the daunting, interesting book!

“Oh yes, I’m all gung-ho right now, showing off on Instagram, pretending I’m wise, but it will be a challenge every new day.

“We’ll see what unfolds…”

Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes chatted to Elizabeth Day on How To Fail.

Keyes shared the advice in the same week that it was announced that she is the first Irish writer to donate a digital archive. The National Library of Ireland (NLI) released details of a pilot scheme to expand the ways it collects the “born-digital” story of Ireland, which will allow content like videos and digital documents to become part of the national collections.

Keyes has donated book cover samples, drafts and pre-proofs that have editor’s comments relating to her 2012 novel The Mystery of Mercy Close. Keyes wrote the book while going through depression and there were long gaps when she wrote nothing.

“I have so many versions of this book because I had a bad bout of mental health that went on when I was writing it,” she said. “I had gaps that went on for months when I wrote nothing. For long spells during it I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it. It demonstrates eventually how projects can get finished.”

Her words will no-doubt be a comfort for anybody who is about to start a new project, or is struggling to get one finished – and they don’t just apply to books. 

But, if you are thinking about writing a book, take Keyes’ advice and just… get writing. 

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Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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