Facing Failure?

Those who can’t do, teach. It appears this insulting maxim may actually be true in my case – at least when it comes to this year’s 20Time project.

This spring, I assigned myself the challenge of writing an original work of fiction. One month in and this is, by far, the hardest of all my previous projects.

In the past few weeks, I’ve read a variety of books for inspiration – Fresh Ink, On Writing, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I’ve also written nearly 10,000 words, only to delete 9,700 or so. At first, the struggle was knowing what to write about. Now that I’ve decided on the characters and story (more on that in a future post), progress has been painful.

I want to write. Really. For the past two weeks, I’ve been up at 5 a.m. to force an hour of writing before my day begins and…the words don’t come. The cursor blinks, waiting, mocking. On days when I do actually tap out some words, they’re just awful.

I’m starting to think maybe I’m not cut out to be a writer.
Maybe this is the first 20Time where I fail.
And maybe that’s okay?

So this is where I am – filled with respect for the published authors of the world while staring at my wall. I don’t know. I still have two months to go. We’ll see what happens.

13 thoughts on “Facing Failure?

  1. Oh man. I got my MFA in Writing a couple years ago, and I know your struggle. However, I just looked at the next segment of your flowchart (brainstorming solutions and problem solving). Have you tried looking at your work of fiction as “works?” I mean shorter works—vignettes, pieces of flash fiction, and voila—maybe one day, they meld? Sometimes, I have to set larger pieces of writing aside for months. I mean, I’m doing myself and the writing a favor by creating distance. In that off-time, ideas come (weirdly, in the shower) and the more you stop pressuring yourself, you’ll find the plot stalks you in the car, as you fall asleep, and as I said, when you are lathering up!
    Flash fiction and short chunks don’t have to be the final forms. They are spaces for your ideas to take risks.
    Also, my best times writing were while reading a magical realism short story anthology (think Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ranier Maria Rilke, and Octavio Paz).
    Hang in there. Your writing has to be amazing. I can’t wait to hear more about it!

  2. alligator78 says:

    Good luck Laura – you can do it!

  3. Thanks, Beth. This is helpful. I like your approach because vignettes – I’m thinking of them as “scenes” – are really all I have right now. I think I can string them together eventually, but I’m just a blind woman walking in the dark woods right now. I’m definitely pressuring myself to write, too. In the past, publicly announcing my goal has helped me conquer my 20Time projects; this time, the announcement feels like it’s blocking everything. I’m on a deadline because I promised I’d have something to share by April 20 and that clock just keeps tick, tick, ticking. I’m pretty much hating this project right now – not at all how I thought this would go. Ugh!

    Okay, enough of the pity party. It’s Saturday morning, I have a second cup of coffee, and I’m going to try to finish a scene I started on Monday. I’m going in! 🙂

  4. Thanks, Alligator78. Good to know that you think so. Me? Not so sure.

  5. Relax, Laura! Don’t be so hard on yourself! You CAN do this!

    My daughter has written a book and is on her second and she usually writes pieces of it as the inspiration flows and then puts it all together. Sounds like the “vignettes” suggestion above.

    My daughter’s advice? (Almost) Same as mine. Relax. Don’t force yourself for inspiration. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It will come.

    Hey! We’re all rooting for ya! Woo-hoo! Go Laura!

  6. Martha KOLLER says:

    Hi, Laura – It took me a long time to learn that when faced with teaching obstacles, and sometimes even personal obstacles, the best thing to do was to “take it to the kids.” Sharing the issue (tactfully and carefully in some cases) with my classes always served as a learning experience for all of us, and hearing their advice and feeling their support lifted my spirits and kept me pushing. As I often said to them and to my colleagues, “These darn kids are going to save us all.” Lean on them when you need it. Best of luck with your project; you can do this!

  7. Thanks, Carolyn and Martha, for your sage advice. Our kids – and my blog readers – are doing to save us all! 😉

  8. My inspiration always comes a couple of days after I’ve given up. Isn’t that weird? I will have a great idea, start working on it, get stuck, get mad, and then give up. Then, inevitably, something in my life will pop up that jump starts my brain and gives me an idea I can run with. Admittedly I’ve never had an awesome undertaking like writing a long piece of fiction, but maybe it would work for big stuff too.
    I respect your work immensely, and I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with something genius very soon!

  9. Oh, Johnston, my friend, I’m hoping and praying the same thing happens to me. Come on, Muse, show up already!

  10. Lori L Beaudoin says:

    The struggle is real!! I have set down to write what in my head seems so doable, amazing, inspiring even…but the damn cursor just keeps blinking and what was one so “amazing” is now trite and not worthy of even saving under a heading. I wish you great words flowing soon!!

  11. Yup, Lori, this is IT exactly. Everything I write is cloaked with my own insecurities. Happily, I’m meeting with my writing group friends tonight and they’re pretty good about kicking my butt. Here’s to finishing our crappy first drafts!

  12. Mme Cheri says:

    I am at this wall right now. Two 20 time periods left, and all of my students are busily scribbling in ther notebooks, typing on their computers, a productive hum in the classroom. They want to review the criteria for the final presentation, and instead of enjoying the moment and being pleased with their progess, I am screaming inside. ‘Leave me alone! Can’t you see I am not even halfway done? How can you be thinking about your presentation at a time like this! Who is typing so loud?! Stop it! I can’t concentrate!!!’

  13. Definitely know that feeling, Cheri. That’s why I really don’t get much of my own 20Time work done during our work sessions. With 36 kids in a class, there’s just always someone who needs my time and attention. I’ve found that Saturday mornings before my family awakens are my most productive hours. Stay strong! We’re almost to the finish line. 🙂

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