Category Archives: failure

Setting goals

So, a month has passed since I started my project: “Leaves and Steel” (working title). I set aside that month to work up an outline and do some background research. I promptly underestimated the work needed, while still managing to slide under the wire with a rough outline.

During that time, I carefully took a good hard look at my schedule, and did a lot of inner work. Would it have been nice to have layered more detail into my outline? Sure. Did I waste the time? No. Because what I was working harder on was setting my page goal.

Everyone should have these goals in place. Here is me without a goal: “Oh, I really want to look into clothing for the setting. I need the proper names of things. And I also want to daydream about great scenes that will be in the book, so that I have something to look forward to. Where is that book on politics? There was this article that I read.. was it Utne reader, or Community magazine…. ” Three months later: “Oh, the novel, yeah, it’s going to be great! I should be starting soon.” Don’t do this.

Look at the difference a simple goal makes – I don’t have a great outline. I don’t have the sort of outline that you show to others and they lean over and bask in it’s perfection. It’s more of a guideline, really. Yet I moved on and am writing the novel.

It’s a testament to the power of goal setting when you start your novel and when it is time to use one of the primary character’s names you type this: <lastname>. Yeah, freakish, isn’t it? Scary. Still, I wrote my first damn page on time. (don’t fret, I named him the next day, he’ll be alright)

So what goal did I set for completing my first draft by July 2018? Five pages a week.

I hear you: “Just Five?!?” with mouths aghast and eyelids wide.

Yes. Just five. Because I know I can do that. I know I can slip and recover from that. Because I know, that over the course of a year, there are going to be weeks that I produce more that five – but never less; and that is the point.

I am thinking of the space around the words also. Space to stay fit, to eat healthy, to communicate this journey to those who stop by the fire. Most of all I am thinking that this time I will not set myself up for failure, because that is what you do when you insist that you write as if you are a published professional right out of the gate.

So set goals. Do inner work. Look at where you are with compassion and set your schedule accordingly. Much <3 to you.

 

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Nourish the physical

I feel that, on the third week of my journey to write a novel, I should share how much caring for my physical self augments my ability to stay on task. We know that our bodies were designed to move frequently, that movement keeps us well, and yet I am a writer. So movement is very important. This year is like an extended marathon for me, and when viewed as such, that means I need to get in shape, and stay in shape.

I’m currently a shape…

Fortunately for me, I do enjoy physical activity; so at least I do not have a resistance to the idea of movement. I also enjoy the outdoors – however it’s frequently in the 90’s here, and it’s fire season – so indoors I go. Yes, I joined a gym. They are a lot less costly than they used to be and they seem to have finally gotten the message and stopped with the contracts. It’s a modest gym, but it has solid equipment that I like, and classes that I’m not ready to take. This is where I will work on my strength and endurance.

Right now I’m entering that stage where I think I’m better than I am, and as a result am always trying to determine if I’m having a heart attack or if, just perhaps, I wasn’t ready to go up in resistance and add that five minutes to my faux rowing session. Still, in just three weeks, sitting is more comfortable, and my hunger is declining while my lust for greens is increasing. But it can’t be all cardio and weights, so this week I’m adding a yoga session. Less twinging in my future.

This is part of being a writer. The mind is connected to the body. Gone is the longing for, or at least it should be, of the mind as an island. The two should work in harness, and a solid physical regimen should accompany work. Perhaps you do not need it to produce; but I would urge you to try the coupling of it, as I think then you might find yourself producing more with less effort.

I do want you to know, when beginning to dig myself out of the mindset that I “just couldn’t create because <insert unfavorable portent excuse here>”, I was in no shape to join a gym. Walking was an effort, and I could not go far. Speaking of chest twinges, going up a mild grade would have me convinced I’d be going down it in an ambulance. So I started small, and there were set-backs. Months that I stopped, then resumed. Perhaps this is you, too. I encourage you to throw it away. It happened. You did not become a chiseled marathoner entering your first decathlon. Neither did I. The difference is that you just keep picking it back up again. And again. Once more into the breech.

So perhaps you feel foolish, starting back where you started long ago, or even further behind than the last time. Screw that noise. Let it go. Walk a block. Then do it again tomorrow. Start parking away from the doors. Through little motions, that we come back to again and again, novels are made.

An odd approach…

I believe I was the last in the universe to learn of FanFiction.net. Now, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, as I came to it already focused on writing, rather than caught up in a particular fandom. Not that I was lacking in that experience, but there is a difference between being swept up in a fandom in isolation, and being swept up in a sea of those like you. FanFiction.net is an ocean of vast proportions.

It was a wonderful discovery. It was very akin to that book on web design that teaches good design by showcasing poor design. No, no. I am not insulting everyone who writes or reads that site. What I mean is that I saw that what is true for physical artists, is true for writers – everyone is good at somethings, but the measure to shoot for is to become well rounded. Here is an example, from memory:

“He walked down the cracked steps, short grasses and moss already working to widen the lines and gaps to reclaim this rise of earth.

“Heyo. Let’s jam.” He called out to his brother-in-arms. ”

The setting was in the time of King Arthur, and clearly, dialog was what this writer needed to work on, while equally clearly they knew how to immerse the reader in the setting. (the original had more wonderful setting info, but I just wanted to show the steep contrast)

There were many, and varied examples of this, and I devoured them. It also showed me the value of curation. If you were interested in a niche fandom, this site was perfect. If you were caught up in a thriving community – well, there was a lot of underwhelming content to slog through in the search of something passably put together. Occasionally there were jewels. It kept you plugged into the hunt, those jewels.

I look upon that time that I fell down the rabbit-hole of FanFiction.net as time well spent.

But while I feel it made me a wiser reader, at least in understanding the parts, and how they fit together, and discernment, my time spent there did not enhance my production. I never posted. I remained unable to complete anything. I would get what they called a “plot bunny”, and write it up, jump from that “cool scene” to the next and then peter out just as the real work of writing was to begin. Of course, that is how I see it now; then it was that it just wasn’t the right time for me. I didn’t have the right office, the right job, the right time, the… exactly: excuses. Or if you are being kind, I was blinded still, by my first writing experience.

I truly believe that nothing will ever compare to it. If for no other reason than I have enshrined in my memory. Words flowed. Pages were ripped out of my notebook and passed away for my friends to read as they were completed. I wrote. Oh, how I wrote. I wrote in class, I wrote at home, I wrote whenever I could write. In fairness, I never finished it. I had to end it, artificially, because it had to be handed in. The tale burned in me and I worked feverishly to get it out.

I’ve been chasing that ever since, and when I couldn’t chase it, I buried it.

There is something there, if you can see it, hovering around the edges. I’ll never know which came first, the feeling that if the words are not burning to get out it’s not worth doing, or that the moment was the culmination of little praise for steady forward movement and hearts and flowers for that last minute save? What I do know is that time has passed and it no longer matters. That it can’t matter anymore. That battle is over, and if it continues to be the focus, I’ll lose the war.

The positive news is that words still pour and burn. The even more positive news is that when they don’t, I can still produce. From here, we move forward (again), but much more seasoned than ever before!

 

Falling down, getting back up.

So. Eventually, in all this, you stop writing again. You will know the reason best. For me, it was the San Diego Comic Con. Took up a total of two weeks. Then another week of recovery, and then yet one more week for.. something. Which is just another way of phrasing: “you know you should be writing, but you’re doing anything to avoid it”.

The problem is that the when you stop, there’s always a good reason. It’s not like I woke up every day for a month and just said: “Naww. I’m gonna eat bon-bons.” I have a perfect storm of things that need my attention. Dire. Each and every one of them. Easy to loose myself in the stream of continual overload and demand, and I did. That’s a month of not writing. Time was, that a break like that would put me off for a half year. Look! I’m back.

In part, what will help in getting back up is to never truly leave in the first place. Writing is the end result, make no mistake. For those who cry: “To be published is the end result”, we will agree to disagree. Publication is something that occurs while you’re buried in the next project. So what can you do when you are sidetracked and don’t have the time or will to write?

  1. If you know you will need to take a break, finish a short something before you stop. Something that you can look at when you are returning that indicates that it hasn’t been all that long and you are, indeed, a writer.
  2. Fit in reading about writing. Most of you writers will be rabid readers, we can always fit a small slice of time in for a page or two.
  3. See if you can learn something about the writing craft from where you are. For me, I visited the publisher’s booths at the ‘Con and asked questions. For you, perhaps you can snag a laptop and browse sites that you normally have no time or inclination for that concern your craft.
  4. If you’re meeting new people, and you are not on the clock, introduce yourself as a writer. I know, you’re not published yet, that’s not the point. You don’t want to feel awkward at your first book signings do you? Get used to telling people that you’re a writer. Get a card. It gets easier over time. Commit.
  5. Mull over your story arcs. I’m doing quite a bit of research for my novel. This information needs percolation! Can’t sit down to write? Now’s the time to percolate!
  6. Be kind to yourself if you lack boundless energy to throw at the keyboard upon your return. Expect a week to pass. You wouldn’t go jogging with a pulled muscle now, would you?

Now it took me another week. I was not idle, but neither was I writing. I fell back into my internal creative process. I saw things with my mind’s eye and did not share them on paper. Alarms started going off. Doubts began to circle overhead like the mangy vultures they are. What to do?

I can only share with you what I did. I made sure in those two weeks to do the basics: exercise. Inactivity will sap the creative spirit, I swear. So out into the world I went. By the second week, with all the tension I was generating by not writing, exercise was critical. I was actually compassionate towards myself. I did not subscribe to calling myself names and signaling to all and sundry that I had failed and was a fake. Understand that for me, this is a major step forward. Not in the typical way, being supportive, but rather by not allowing the polarization of single event in time. Looking at things maturely means that not writing, even for a month, does not doom me to eternal failure. It does not mean that I missed the best writing I could have done in my career. It just means I didn’t write for a month. Lo and behold: I produced this. I’m very pleased.

I will speak of the ‘Con. I did find out some things of interest there; but I felt it was equally important to share tales of failure and struggle. We are but a reflection of each other in the circle. We can all get back up once more.