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:
• 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!