A Meditation On (Not Really) Failing

We’ve reached the end of July (wait, didn’t we just start this YEAR?) and of course, that means the end of Camp NaNo. As such, I have some thoughts and decided to share them. As I was thinking about this year’s Camp NaNo, I realized others might have similar experiences, which means I might have something to say that they need to hear.

I’ve done both Camp Nano and the original November event many times over the last four years. I have succeeded every time, even when the day job kept me busy or insomnia came calling. No matter what, I’ve always hit and surpassed the 50k mark and often gotten very workable drafts out of it.

Camp winners

NaNo Winners

Until now.

This year, I skipped Camp NaNo in April. I knew better. I was still very much in recovery (as discussed here before) and the thought of writing was still painful. Besides, I was going to a con, which would cost me a few days. But when July came around, I had an outline for a book ready. I had just completed a draft of a short story. I had friends who were going to do it with me and we would encouraging each other through it. It was a good plan and I thought I was ready.

Camp-Participant-2015-Facebook-Profile

Then July kicked my ass for a number of reasons. I’m not the only one that happened to, just among my friends. I’m coming out from under the things that got to me, but of course, it’s well past too late for Camp.

For the first time, I failed at NaNo.

Kida-July

I could beat myself up about this, or swear that I’ll do better next time. I could allow this to add to my anxiety and mental pain level. But that wouldn’t be healthy. Worse, it would be dramatically unfair to myself.

So instead, I’m picking what I can take forward out of the wreckage that was July. I’m letting this “failure” help me grow as both a person and a writer.

See, I tried. I really did. But when life happens to you, there isn’t an option to say “This isn’t a good time. Can you come back later?” So I let myself let it go, rather than obsess about what I wasn’t doing and how I was going to fail.

I often say to others that they didn’t fail if they have more words than they did before, and I decided to apply that to myself. I have more words than before. I also took some time to reflect, to think about what I need to be working on. I also continued building a major project I’ve been working on for a month or two now.

PUA grab

And now, thinking about not successfully completing NaNo, I’m taking a moment to recognize that I was productive for more of the month than I realized at the time. More than that, I feel freer than I ever have in my writing life thanks to this failure.

I didn’t write my novel in 30 days and the world didn’t end. I’m still me. My friends still like me, even admire me in some cases. My cat is still cute. I still have a story to tell. It didn’t evaporate.

Telling-a-story

This may sound elementary to some, but for me, it’s a big deal. I think, in the back of my mind, I really believed that it would be the end of something at least if I didn’t hit my goals and exceed them. It got to the point of being unhealthy. I felt guilty doing anything other than writing. I’d get home from the day job and feel like I couldn’t even take a few minutes to unwind. I had to make the most of every minute that wasn’t day job or sleeping so I could write more words, all the words. All those crazy word totals you guys saw a couple years ago? That’s how I did it. I fed everything in my life into the writing bonfire.

dsc_0548_2
Wow. Writing it out like that, it’s actually a miracle I didn’t burn out sooner than I did. That was so massively unhealthy. I feel a bit stupid for thinking that was okay.

So now I’m trying again, but differently. I only let myself write for an hour, two tops. I might go further if I get on real roll, but not just so I can have higher word count totals. And I’m allowed to do other things before writing. I just have a time I have to stop and turn to writing by.

BalanceGirlC

I’ve also pulled back my daily writing goal. When things were at their most obsessive, I officially had a goal of 2000 words per day. Every day that I was writing a draft. Even when I’d been at work all day. And that was just the start. By the end, anything less than 4k was worthy of calling myself a slacker. *shaking my head at myself*

Now, the goal is 500 words. Yes, it’ll take me 5 months or more to write the first draft, but that’s okay. And it may be a better draft than if I pushed harder, wrote more in a day. Even if it isn’t, this feels comfortable. This feels like success. Because I don’t have to push myself. I’m coming to the keyboard willingly, guilt-free. I’m writing my 500 words and then either stopping or continuing, with either choice being okay.

The best part? I feel better about everything in my life right now. Writing. Day job. Me. And I’m sleeping better.

Do I really need any further indicators that I made the right choice, that I learned the right lesson? That it wasn’t really a failure at all?

So I hope you too will learn a little something from this. It’s okay to not do as well as you’d hoped or expected. It’s okay to run into difficulties and make choices. Most of all, it’s okay to scale back if you find yourself in an unhealthy place on any level. Be that kind to yourself. I hope you will. I wish for that with all my heart.

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About Julie

I'm a writer and photographer. I always have something with me to take notes for ideas or writing projects I'm thinking about or have on the go. I also like to go around with my camera and take pictures of anything that strikes me as beautiful or evocative. I'm perpetually working on one story or another, while waiting for enough distance to judge the last one (or more). I'm always working on several projects at once, developing the next book, even as I'm editing the last. Beyond that, there's always plenty of scraps and twists of ideas rolling around in my head, eventually turning themselves into full blown stories.
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4 Responses to A Meditation On (Not Really) Failing

  1. Morgen Rich says:

    So much YES! Guilt for something you haven’t done to harm the world or those in it saps energy that’s better spent enjoying life. Writers write because they are compelled to tell stories about characters. I think you hit the nail on the head. Feeling compelled to write isn’t the same thing as feeling compelled to write a high volume of stories in a short period of time. Consistency is important, yes, but volume isn’t because, as you point out to every writer who complains of “being behind,” ANY word count you add to a WIP is progress. If you progress consistently, you’ll finish a draft. Doing that in a way that gives you time to enjoy life and recharge without feeling guilty is healthy. Recharging is important because it removes the tension that blocks creativity, and it lets you enjoy what you’re doing without feeling drained. So happy to see you reminding yourself of those ideas!

  2. *HUGS* I’m so proud of you and happy things are going better. I didn’t even consider doing either Camp this year, and you TRIED. Go you. 🙂 And scaling back… that is good too. Breathing room is good. Also thanks for this post. I think I really needed it. I’m going to be thinking about this now. Love you, girl! Press on and have hope. ❤

  3. quix689 says:

    I’m glad you’re feeling better about writing and life and everything. 500 words seems a lot more manageable than 2000. I’m trying to find a daily goal for myself, and I’ve been thinking that 500 would be the number I aim for during non-NaNo months (I think I can still write more during November, but don’t hold me to that!).

    I didn’t make it this month, either. I foolishly tried in April and failed, but I thought I would do better this month because I had an idea I was excited for. Then I was back home for most of the month and then we got a puppy, and I haven’t had the motivation to do much of anything. But like you said – more words is good, even if it wasn’t as many words as you were hoping for.

    Anyway, I’m very happy things are going well for you! *hugs*

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    It’s great to see you finding that balance between life and writing. I know the NaNo events hit some writers like a drug. There’s a feeling that “If I can write 50,000 words in November, I can do it every month.” Well, no. As you—and I’m sure many other writers—have learned.

    That, I think, is one of the dangers of NaNo. For me, writing is much more a marathon than a sprint (aka NaNo). And no successful marathoner sprints through the 26.6-mile race. So, in short, I hope you’ll continue to do what you love at a sustainable pace. I think you could be happy with the results, After all, we know you have the talent to tell great stories!

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