20Time2019: The Results

Twelve (very long) weeks ago, I announced that I’d spend this spring semester creating a completed work of fiction to share with the world. Today, I’m back to tell you that…drumroll, please…I have failed.

For the first time in five years of annual 20Time projects, I did not complete my goal. There is no book to share (though I did complete three chapters) and I have not cracked the code of how to teach creative writing to a roomful of 34 teenagers.

We like to tell our kids that failure is part of growth. If we only ever attempt things that we already know we can do, then we aren’t stretching and growing. This is true, but the truth does little to soothe the sting of failure when it slaps you in the face. That’s where I am with this right now. My face hurts.

As always with 20Time, I’m here to report what I did and what I learned. Also, against my better judgment, I’m moving forward with my promise to post some of my writing.

What I did:

• Read books about writing and books by good writers, including: On Writing, Fresh Ink, Flying Lessons & Other Stories, The War of Art, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

• Set up a writers’ group with three friends from work. We met six times over the past 12 weeks to read chapter drafts, identify plot holes, and help with line editing. We also went roller skating.


• Took a writing class from a very nice man who self-published a novel. He has a kind heart, but the class was rather loosey-goosey and, sadly, not all that useful.

• Wrote 20,000 words or so and deleted most of them.

• Completed a detailed outline of the story of two sisters, Odelia and her little sister Penny, who navigate the perils of middle school in their own Odyssey-style misadventure. Think Rick Riordan meets Sharon Draper.

• Abandoned the Odie/Penny story (trust me, it was awful) and replaced it with a story about a 7th grader named London and her older sister, Catherine. Their parents recently divorced and London gets herself into all sorts of trouble. Think of an older modern Ramona Quimby. If you’re interesting in reading a slice, it’s here.


What I learned:

I was arrogant. I honestly thought that I could go from zero to novel in 12 weeks. Um…no. Turns out my friends who have novels in the works have been thinking about their stories for y-e-a-r-s. I now have a story outline and the first draft of three chapters. It’s progress, but far from what I’d hoped to accomplish.

Failure is a cure for arrogance. Creative work is really hard. I’m not much good at it.

Insecurity keeps us safe – and stuck. If we want to find our greatness, we have to fight through our mental blocks. I, apparently, am my worst enemy. More on this idea here.

Community is valuable. The best thing I did was reach out to my friends from work. Our writing group has become a source of inspiration and the four of us have decided to continue our work together. Irene’s romance novel is nearly finished, Leigh’s sci-fi teen thriller has entered the extended outline phase, Ann’s starting grad school this fall and wants help editing papers, and I’m going to keep blogging and focusing on non-fiction.

You don’t have to be a novelist to be a writer. I have this blog and I write curriculum. I have a degree in journalism and I know how to use a semicolon. My friends reminded me that I might not be a novelist, but I am still a writer.

You can try something and decide you don’t like it. It’s weird to invest so much time in a project and then just set it aside, but that’s what I’m doing. At first, I thought I’d wasted 12 weeks of energy and should’ve chosen a more practical, more useful 20Time project. Life is about learning, though, and my failures teach me more than my successes. I’ve learned a lot about myself this spring. I’m also relieved this particular 20Time project is over. I doubt I’ll ever finish this novel, but I like that London will be sitting there waiting for me if I decide to change my mind.

How about you? Did you launch a passion project this spring? How’d it go? Share your successes and failures below!

19 thoughts on “20Time2019: The Results

  1. The more stuff I create, the more ideas I get. Sometimes I doubt, and the “who do you think you are?” monster sits on my shoulder. But even if I don’t sell anything, my students are benefitting from my hard work, so I call that success! Even if no one reads my blog, I still love writing it. And I think I’m hilarious! 😂 Even though you didn’t finish your project, your frankness about the process helps others, and you are a rock star on so many other fronts. Keep on keepin’ on, my friend!

  2. Passion project? No. But I started boxing and throwing darts, both somewhat out of my element, this year at age 49. And I’ve learned that any skill consistently practiced will improve. I’m sure there is an entire blog post in that statement. Happy to have found your blog! Happy Saturday to you!

  3. Indeed, Johnston, my friend. Indeed. To misquote famed…uh…philosopher John Legend, “Even when we lose, we’re winning.”
    Let’s keep making stuff! 😀

  4. Happy Saturday, Crystal! I’m glad you’re here, too, and SO IMPRESSED with your new hobbies. That sounds awesome! 🙂

  5. I doubt anyone has to tell you it’s not a failure, look at what you’ve learned about yourself and the writing process in general! It takes courage to admitting when things didn’t go to plan and I believe students (and your fellow teachers) appreciate hearing that. Perfection is unattainable and yet, somehow that’s the standard to which so many of us hold ourselves.

    I always think of the part in the movie “Meet the Robinsons” where Lewis’ invention fails and sprays everyone with PB&J. He panics and starts apologizing, everyone else starts celebrating his failure. “From failure you learn. From success…not so much.” So congratulations!!

    What are you trying next?!

  6. Kendall V Childs says:

    Embrace the experience. That is what’s most important and take what you have learned and use it to teach creative writing. You may inspire the next John Grisham. Thanks for sharing your experience with all of us. Always a pleasure. Have a Happy Easter and a blessed Passover.

  7. Tracy Clavin says:


    Thank you for your authenticity. Your impact is powerful, whether discussing successes or struggles.

    With high regard,

    Tracy Clavin

    Ramona. For Life.


  8. Bless you woman. You are human

    Sent from my iPhone

  9. Not a failure – it’s true we learn from every stumble, trip and fall.
    I recently took on the epic task of trying to re-think our curriculum to be more culturally-inclusive and I am struggling massively. It might not seem it, but it really is a passion project having grown up unable to identify with the materials and content I was told to learn at school. I’m feeling disheartened today, but also realise I have to keep trying. I’ll get there in the end. I have to. So too will you achieve what you need to if it is indeed something you have to do.

  10. Two months ago, my country launched the unmanned spacecraft “Beresheet” (“Genesis”) to land on the moon. It was an epic endeavor, initiated by three engineers and supported by the whole country. Our nation watched as the “little spacecraft that could” was successfully launched, and fearlessly made its two-month journey, against all odds, towards the moon.
    And then, two weeks ago, exactly on schedule, we all held our breath while it made its last maneuvers to land on the moon.
    And on the very last minute, it failed.
    Yes, on the very last minute, they lost contact with the spacecraft’s computer, and couldn’t give the order to slow down towards landing, and it majestically crashed all over the moon.
    For us here in Israel, it was a celebration day. Not because we were happy to fail, but because we consider failure as an essential part of the process. That’s partly why we are called the “start-up nation.” We value failure as an inevitable part of the way toward success.
    I admire your honesty and willingness to share downfalls as well as triumphs. Don’t give up on London et al. they live inside of you. See it as the incubation phase, it is necessary for the writing process. You are a writer, you know how to bring ideas to life. Consider this an inevitable step towards your great American novel. I believe in you.

    Here’s the full story of the little spacecraft that couldn’t:

  11. Ok, so I did not have an epic fail, but the one challenge in my 20Time that was the real CHALLENGE was to teach myself to play the banjo.

    And I suck. Like, suck so hard I am inside out.

    But the rest of the project is fabulous. And I will share photos when I present it on Friday at Artsapalooza on campus this coming Friday. Artsapalooza is the senior capstone project by an Arts Administration/Communication double major, Olivia Coghe, and it promises to be amazing! I will be doing my Woody Guthrie, Protest Music, and the American Dream performance art presentation at 2 pm. https://www.facebook.com/events/289952241696310/

    If you are the northwestern part of PA, you are invited to check it out.

    I will not be playing the banjo. But I will be singing. And I have made GIANT ART COLLAGES. 😀

    So, fail? Eh, yeah. But not so much. Plus, failure is growth. So I will continue to strum.

  12. I love so much about this, Karrie. Banjo on, my friend!

  13. I love your story so far 🙂 I taught drama for 4 years to middle school students.. you captured the fear and self-loathing 🙂

    My own failure… well, once again I created “works of art” to post on TpT, only to doubt myself and leave them firmly planted on my computer desktop.

  14. Oh, SavvySanchez, perhaps it’s time to finally post those items? Share your awesomeness with the world! 🙂

  15. “I propose a toast to Laura and her brilliant failure. May it lead to success in the future!’
    – Meet the Robinsons

    I also failed my 20 time project this year, and I was surprised at how excited I was to discuss my ‘failure’ in my final presentation to my students. It gave me so much more to talk about, and I genuinely focused on everything I learned instead of crowing about what I did. That’s supposed to be the whole point, and while I tell my students over and over again about the importance of learning from failure, they rarely see me practice that aspect of what I preach. I did not actually set out to model failure for them, but I think it was brilliant. They need to see what it looks like to genuinely feel pride in the experience and the learning, not just the result.

  16. Hooray for our failures, Cheri! Sounds like we’re in good company. 😉

  17. Elizabeth Fox says:

    Hey Laura,
    This is not about a passion project failing, but an idea for something you might want to check out, if you have the available time and are so inclined. I have been attending summer writing workshops at the Write by the Lake program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the past two years and LOVE it. It is June 17-21 this year and involves a half-day workshop of your choice (there are about 14 offered, and I think YA specifically may be one of them) plus speakers and some other activities. It is very inexpensive, in my opinion — about $425, not including your food or accommodations.
    I have no idea what availability is like at this point, because the workshops definitely hit capacity, but if you are interested, I know you don’t know me but I could not endorse it more enthusiastically. Good luck on completing your manuscript! Best, Liz Fox

  18. I so appreciate the recommendation, Liz! Won’t be able to fit this in for this summer, but I’ve filed this away in my tickler file for the future. My writing group continues, so I’ll be sure to let those folks know about this opportunity, too. 🙂

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