What to Do When Your Writing Challenge is a Big Fat Failure
August 2, 2013
I’m no stranger to disappointing myself. I check out library books and don’t read them. It took me three false starts to finish Jane Eyre. Even if I started a school paper early, I consistently banged out a conclusion with minutes left to turn it in. But in these cases I forget I ever wanted to read those books, I finally finished Jane Eyre (today!), and any issues with papers usually had to do with the ideas, not the writing.
My July Writing Challenge was a special kind of failure. Yes, we all learn from failure, but I’ve failed at enough things in my life that I’d kind of rather have a win when I set up something that’s self-guided, simple, and a task I generally enjoy: writing. As we know, sometimes life interferes with writing. However, here was my July:
- The Setting: I work full-time, I’m involved in 3 volunteer commitments, plus Renegade Word and a workshop group. On June 30, I made a move to buy a car from a relative moving out of the country. This car is a manual transmission, and I borrowed it to try to learn how to drive it. And on top of all of this, I thought I’d be able to do a writing challenge with relative ease.
- July 5: I totaled the car I’ve been driving since I was fifteen (automatic transmission). I no longer had consistent access to car. I practiced driving manual almost daily for the next ten days.
- July 11: I successfully interviewed for a new job. Good news: this is a job in the public sector, so I get benefits. Bad news: it is only part-time, so I must continue to stay on part-time at my current job with reduced hours. I’ve worked two jobs before with a much worse schedule, but I knew from the beginning it would be tiring.
- Mid-July: I began to experience wrist-and-forearm pain while typing, which also happened last summer. These episodes are just peachy, since most of my job and free-time are spent on the computer. I had to severely limit the time I spent typing and was in pain a lot. I spent two weeks avoiding the computer as much as possible.
- Late July: I had been avoiding an enormous work project for a while and the pressure to begin finally converged from all sides, in addition to my regular office duties (which I would soon have half the time to do).
- July 25: I bought the manual, but became road ready in two days of practice! (The best thing on this list!)
- July 28: My landlord told me that she will not renew our lease for another year. It took me two months to find this house this past winter. I have only lived here for six months. The rental market in my city in February was at 2% vacancy. With this second job, I may actually bring home less money, so already low rental budget is even lower. I began applying to roommate postings like mad. (House-hunting before you know how much money you’ll be bringing home = not recommended.)
- July 29: I started working two jobs. Again, I’ve had worse schedules, but it’s an adjustment.
In short: car problems + job problems + health problems + house problems = the opposite of a recipe for a successful month-long writing challenge.
I did post faithfully to the forum every day. I had goals of revising drafts and finishing at least one story if not more. I did none of those things. You can read the angst for yourself on the forum.
So where’s the silver lining to this train wreck? (Sorry, I deserve a mixed metaphor.) Technically, I achieved my goal: I did write something every day, even if I wasn’t happy with it. I realized that it’s not hard to squeeze in writing for even fifteen minutes each day. I discovered journaling does make me feel better.
The most important thing I learned is that if you dedicate a little bit of thought to the same story that you’ve struggled with on a daily basis, eventually you might have an epiphany. While I was hand-writing to conserve wrist ability, I had a moment where my first draft’s trajectory just popped into my mind. Sure, I was too exhausted to develop it further and typing up my notes was so painful I had to stop, but moments like that are invaluable to writers. Keeping the story ever-present in your mind will help shift some of the workload onto your subconscious.
So what do you do when you try out a fun, low-pressure test for yourself and your life falls apart around you? Do what you can, be forgiving, take care of yourself (physically, emotionally, mentally), and if you can’t be proud of what you did accomplish, at least don’t beat yourself up over it. You might still experience a breakthrough on that one piece of writing, even if you can’t explore that breakthrough right away because you can’t type/crashed your car/spent all your writing time combing through Craigslist posts.
I’d like to try to another writing challenge once I’ve settled into a new routine and home. I hope you’ll all join me…or at least watch the catastrophe unfold…whenever that might be…