Beginning Again is the Thing

There are times in life when no matter what we do, we simply can’t keep going.  We can’t keep working, we can’t keep blogging, we can’t keep exercising, we can’t keep living like a human… and for many, that’s where it ends.  I’m done.  There’s no way to fix this mess.  But as a certified stop-and-start college student, I can tell you from experience that failing isn’t the thing.  Beginning again is the thing.

What I mean is that there comes a point in your life where you’re gonna fall off the Goddamn horse.  He’s gonna kick you in the face, he’s gonna roll you in the dirt, and you’re going to want to lay there and just like it.  You’re going to want to make the ground your new home because you’re embarrassed, you’re disappointed, you’re afraid that you’ll never be able to ride a horse again — not properly, anyway.

The fact is that everybody falls.  Everybody has moments where they simply. cannot. hold. on.  And the correct response is to catch your breath and then stand back up, dust off your jeans, slap your hat back on and get back in those motherfucking stirrups.  I say this as a person who has never ridden a horse, but I think the metaphor works.  I’m eager to hear from horse people (not centaurs) who will ultimately correct me and tell me I’m wrong.  Whatever.  Words.  Feh.

The Art of Failing

There’s little in this life that will truly teach you how to be human like a nice, fat, public failure.  You’re afraid to try again, I know you are, because you might fail again and just dig that hole you’re in a lot deeper.  This is why so many writers start out and don’t get far.  Our career is about failing.  Our career is about humility.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit.

Writers burn-out, writers fail, life happens, it all turns into a giant smorgasbord of dicks.  There’s a lesson in the failing, though.  You learn what isn’t working, which is a valuable thing to know.  Tempering your skill under pressure will absolutely always give you better results than living in a vacuum where you’re always perfect and always on point.

Fuck it.  Be off point.  Lose your mind.  Expand your waistline.  Get Diabetes.  Fail miserably in life and in work.  Screw up so bad your friends aren’t sure what to say to you.  Do it because it’s a lesson that’s waiting for you.  Do it because you want to be better.  Don’t let it drive you into an anxiety spiral, let it drive you into a tailspin of self-improvement.

Why am I spouting all this fucking nonsense?  I feel like the world’s biggest loser right now.  But I know I’m not the only one.  I’m not the only person who has failed and feels like there’s no escape.  So, I’m blogging instead.  I’m beginning again.  I’m giving you something to hold on to if you’re dangling from the end of your rope.

In the last week and a half, three people who were important to some part of my life died.  I’m 500 miles from home and covered up in work.  I feel like I’m going to lose my mind, but it’s not in me to lay at the bottom of this crevice and cry.  I’m going to come out of this fighting, and I’m going to drag you out with me.  So, c’mon, grab on to my backpack, and let’s get the fuck out of this hole.

Step 1:  Let’s See What Went Wrong

Sometimes, life happens and you break.  There’s no shame in that, but before you declare that it was “life happening,” make sure it really was.  Did you fail because you were missing crucial information?  Were your expectations too grand?  This is where the rubber meets the road, my friends.  A failure is JUST a failure if you’re not willing to own the fuck out of it.

Step 2: Make a New Plan

My grand failure has been letting this blog languish.  This blog is me, it’s everything, it’s all I ever wanted.  But it’s sat here dusty and dirty for a while because life happens and I’m not making it a priority.  So, this weekend I made a new plan.  I downloaded some software to help me better aggregate news (Feedly) and pulled out my Google Docs program and made a motherfucking list.  “Blog ideas.”  It was the new plan.  It wasn’t grandiose and it wasn’t fancy, but it was a plan.  Use a paper napkin, use your fucking smart phone, use your nephew’s arm, I don’t care.  Make a plan and write it down.

Step 3:  Put the Plan Into Action

It’s really that simple.  You’ve got your plan all worked out and you know for certain this is how you’re going to do the thing, so all you have to do now is jump.  I know, it’s really the hardest step ever, ever.  But close your eyes and just do it.  Say Geronimo and let’s be on with it.  You’re never going to know if your plan will actually work out unless you test it.  For some, it helps to publish the Plan so there’s some accountability, but I don’t recommend doing this.  If you need to change directions or you’re simply timid, any negative feedback can really be crushing.

Step 4:  Success?

In your Plan, you should have defined success in some way.  Sales, clicks, readership, rocks thrown at your house — they’re all metrics that can help keep you motivated.  They also help you know when you’ve actually implemented the Plan fully.  Did you get the clicks you’re looking for?  Time to make a stretch goal.  Be like a Kickstarter.  Give yourself an incentive for beating your target.

There’s a reason that the phoenix is such a strong symbol for humanity.  There’s literally nothing that can stop that fucking bird, it’ll just resurrect again and again.  Be a phoenix.  Be a cliche and love it.  Just get your ass back up, however you have to, and step through the path to regaining your success.

As a side note, I thought I’d tell you that after my first massive life failure, I had a phoenix tattooed on me.  He’s a massive son of a bitch, and he’s there to remind me.  Every day. Every step. Every breath. is a chance to begin again.

So, let’s start from THIS moment, from this fucking spot right here, and rise again.  I’m the motherfucking oncoming storm, assholes.  Get the fuck out of my way.

NaNoWriMo: Success is What You Make It

Today is November 10, and you’re exactly a third of the way into NaNoWriMo.  Have you, in fact, written 16,666.667 words on your novel yet?  For a large percentage of you, I’d guess the answer is “no.”  Well, it’s not too late to play catch up, it’s not too early to quit entirely and say you tried.  Here’s a sad truth for you: pro writers fail to complete first novels more often than they don’t.

I’d show you my pile of rotting manuscript carcasses, but some are pretty old, dusty and mummified by now.  What I think is going to be a brilliant idea somehow seems to lose steam between other projects and commitments, and eventually they just… sort of die.  For some of you, I’d bet this is already the case.  Maybe you’re even trying to using NaNo as a way to try to jumpstart an old novel you can’t get off the ground.

Give Yourself Permission to Fail

So, NaNoite, what’s it to be?  Are you going to beat that novel into submission, or are you going to face the reality that it may have been too much of an undertaking, you might not have planned well enough or you simply don’t have the time to devote to achieve 50,000 words in a month?

You know, it’s actually ok to fail at this.  NaNoWriMo is meaningless in the grand scheme of things.  Sure, once in a while a marketable novel comes out of it, but you know that old joke about monkeys and typewriters… enough NaNos and something decent would eventually happen.  And that’s great.  For them.

But let’s talk about you.  It’s November, you’re trying to get ready for the Christmas shopping gorge and the Thanksgiving eating gorge and you’ve got family coming in from out of state in 10 days and your life is one fucking wad of chaos and stress and one more fucking thing might just make the vein in your forehead burst.  November isn’t a great time to try to write a novel unless you live alone with a cat and have no living relatives.  Fluffy’s needs aren’t many.

You have to give yourself permission to fail.  Failure’s ok.  In fact, I read this paper recently on the failures and successes of professional athletes, and it says it’s ok to fail, too.  The researchers actually discovered that a failure is more valuable than a success in some ways — successes tend to lead to swollen heads and overconfidence, which ultimately leads to stupid risk-taking that ends in serious disappointment and a big mess.  Failure, on the other hand, tends to lead to success if the loser has clear feedback and knows how to correct their mistake.

Sound like anybody you know?

How to Fix Your NaNoWriMo Woes

By allowing yourself to fail at NaNo, you’re not granting yourself permission to fail at your novel.  You’re just acknowledging that writing a novel in a month is a bit of a trick for someone with a full life.  And that’s ok.  I have a novel that’s all but written in my head and hasn’t seen paper in three years.  Sometimes the time isn’t right.  Sometimes your life isn’t right.  Sometimes you aren’t right.

If you choose to fail at NaNo but not your novel, you have to figure out what went wrong.  My first instinct is that writing 50,000 words a month is a difficult feat for anybody who isn’t used to doing it day in and day out.  But, your reason may be different.  Maybe you had to raise your own turkey, then kill it, cool it, age it and eat it this month.  That’s a busy month, ykwim?

So, let’s mend that NaNo disaster, like this:

Step 1.  Figure out what went wrong.  Don’t make fucking excuses, be realistic.  Did you fail to devote enough time to the effort?  Did you underestimate the amount of planning that a novel requires?  Did you simply lose steam and run out of coffee?  Is there something else going on that you really need to deal with first?

Step 2.  Sit down with your novel and give it a hard look.  However much you’ve finished.  Then pat yourself on the back, because you actually started to write a novel.  And you wrote that much of it.  Good job.

Step 3.  With novel in hand, make a list of all the steps you’ll need to finish your book draft.  Do you still need to define some characters?  Do you need to fix some plot holes?  Do you need to actually plan a plot because you were sure it would just “come to you” as you wrote?

Step 4.  Take your steps and arrange them somewhere visible.  Cork boards are great for this.  I write mine on 3×5 index cards and pin them on.  That way I can rearrange later.

Step 5.  Eat the Elephant.  Take your novel one small step at a time.  Don’t rush it, don’t force it, just let it flow.  Relax.  The words will come tumbling out if you stop clenching your asshole.

Step 6.  Marvel in your own glory.  Hey, look!  You completed Step 5 of my 6 Step Program.   If you did as instructed, you also completed your novel.  Woohoo!

There you go.  I officially give you permission to fail.  In fact, I think you’d be better off to fail.  I think it makes people better in general to fail once in a while, plus you’ll have more time to work on your story, and that’s nice.  Success is an illusion — it’s nothing more than the completion of goals you set for yourself.  If NaNo isn’t realistically in reach, that’s ok.

Make a new goal.  Start again.

Drink a beer.  Eat a pizza.

Go fucking write!