Thoughts on Failure

I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately. Failure to get more done during the week. Failure at having not gotten more done BEFORE the baby. Failure to not submit half as much fiction as I should have over the past ten years, despite having a hell of a lot more time, even *when* working full-time. Failure in the shape of persistent fiction rejections when I *do* submit. Failure to keep up with old friends. Failure to step out of my comfort zone to make new ones. Failure at not being as far along in my career as I’d like to be. The list goes on and on inside my head.

And recently, even the NY Times Magazine had a whole issue on failures, and my mother shared another newsletter from her spiritual community which also talked about failure. Those last two, though, took a different look at what failure is and what it means. One thing in particular stuck out to me with particular force in the newsletter: While Babe Ruth held the world record for home runs, he also held the world record for strike-outs. When he swung at the ball, he swung hard–and didn’t always make it. Look at Hershey, even: who repeatedly failed and went bankrupt at least once in trying to set up his own candy company. Or the employee who brought him the idea for Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, to which Hershey said no, he didn’t want to make them, but at least graciously allowed the guy to use his suppliers to make them on his own. They’re now the #1 best-selling Hershey’s product, all thanks to Reece who didn’t give up when his boss said it was a stupid idea.

Failure is inevitable, especially if you want to be good at anything. Rejections are a part of writing, and that’s something I’ve come to recognize and accept–even embrace–over the years. But in my everyday life, failure haunts me. The guilt of not doing X or not being as good of a mother/human as Y–because s/he can do so much more than me and STILL raise her/his young child, so who am I to complain that I don’t have time?–overwhelms me and robs me of some enjoyment of an otherwise very happy time in my life.

In some ways, I can even feel guilty about being happy, because of all the other stressors piled up on my back. How dare I be happy? Don’t I realize it could get WORSE, and that I better start worrying now so I’m prepared for it?

How messed up is that?

One of the things I’m only beginning to understand now is how to let go and forgive myself when I’m not as accomplished/talented/productive/fiscally viable as I’d like to be. The idea that “failure is only a failure if you don’t pick yourself back up” is very comforting during times like this. And the guilt is just a bunch of wasted thought depriving me of otherwise good days. I don’t have time for that.

Every day, I’m finding new ways to get a little more done. Every day, I’m getting a little better at learning how to juggle keeping the Little Guy happy and entertained, while *also* accomplishing things I need to get done. Every day, it’s getting a little easier.

So why guilt myself when I’m actually taking the baby-steps I need to get where I want to go? There’s something to be said about bite-sized progress and meeting smaller, more accomplishable goals. In fact, I’ve even started setting 2-3 medium-sized goals a week to try to achieve, and so far, have managed to hit them almost every week. I can’t write a novella in a week, but with dedication and patience, maybe I can write a solid 3k. I can’t clean up the entire apartment, but I can get the bathroom looking decent.

And I’m starting a small business, which I’m super excited about, even in as much as it stresses me out trying to get everything organized and think through every detail of its finances. One baby step at a time!


Day 16 – It’s M(ugh)nday again…

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Mondays… Maybe it’s the hubby going back to MA on Sunday night. Maybe it’s the usually crappy Sunday-night sleep I get. Maybe it’s just knowing there’s a whole week looming and so much to do and so little energy to do it. Sunday nights, though, are usually pretty perky–hyped up and ready to take on the challenges–so I have no idea what it is about that Sunday night to Monday morning shift that twists the pro into a con. I thought it was a malady of the ordinary work-week, but am finding that even at home with management of my own time for a change, these Mondays are no easier. Interesting. 

At any rate, it took a long, LONG while to get going today, and again MINDFUL BIRTHING was the book to shake me out of my nervous-ball-of-wire nerves and actually start making baby steps to move forward. Biggest discovery of the day? When I’m particularly stressed out, for whatever reason, deciding to think about only ONE thing which I will do next (and not the myriad of things I *could* do, but just that ONE thing I want to do) can get me gradually moving. Also, on particularly tough days, five minutes of seated, breath-focused meditation here and there is a lifesaver.


WRITING/EDITING PROJECT: Far-future lifeforms! Pulsars! Sentient robotic trees! Seedling space-travel! Massive radiation poisoning! It’s all here, and being converted to flash fiction from 3,600 words.

Working Title: “The Miracle of Jane”
Added Words: N/A
Total Words (to date): 200

Happening Today in the World of Fiction!: Distant origins! Clones and AIs! Lost originators and millions of lightyears! 

Notes: My goal this week, ideally, is to get each of the six 200-word scenes sculpted and organized, and from there, hopefully do a polish run-through and smoothing edit (with a few minor additions). Today’s section was “Distant Origins,” in which Mother contemplates her own genesis and Little Jane’s, as well as setting the lonely tone for the short piece. I was scared to death of approaching this rewrite this week, which was weird because last week’s planning of it was invigorating. But the time between planning and writing must have been too long, and I got the jitters at the thought of starting this monumental cut-back. Having gone through this section today, however, I’m feeling more confident. A lot of what I want to say is already in the first version, and I’m really just picking out the pieces that I feel have the most poetic and narrative punch and then transitioning between them as necessary. Still, it’s somewhat slow work, since it involves word-sniping at every second in order to keep it in the tight 200 word limit per section. I’ve got a bank of 200 extra words I *can* use if need be, but I’d rather not touch them if I can help it. The shorter this thing is, the better–in the end–I think it’ll be. But it’s not easy! Baby steps, baby steps…



Days 12-15 – Ah, what a week it is…

Well, as one might have been able to judge by the lack of updates this past week, last week was something of a complete washout. I’m not quite sure what it was that derailed the week’s plans, but I’m going to be making a few changes for the coming week to see if that helps. But before I do that, I’m going to list five things that went *well* last week, because even though I wasn’t remotely as productive as I would have liked, and there were a number of personal things that came up that were out of anyone’s control, there were still a few good things I should try to remember: 

1. I finished FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury. — This is one of the few goals I actually met this past week (and that, technically mostly on Saturday). It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and my hubby was listening to it on his drives to and from Pittsfield, so we had a great time discussing it and the ideas therein. It was a lovely time, and we’ll have to do this again sometime soon. 

2. I ate better. — Contrary to last week, I had kefir and frozen fruit and bananas around the house, so that meant delicious (fibrous and protein-rich) fruit smoothies in the morning with breakfast! I’m still not saying I’m a bastion of perfect nutrition, but it was a big improvement despite my penchant for Eggo Waffles with Lyle’s syrup this week, too. :)

3. I had a good cello lesson on Tuesday. — I’m starting (slowly) to get the hang of bowing parallel to the bridge, though that brings with it its own challenges. I learned how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in one lesson, which is a huge and wildly delightful achievement, since I recall it took me almost a whole year to learn that little ditty on the violin when I was in first grade. I’ll take it! Plus reading THE CELLO by Elizabeth Cowling (my relax-before-bed read) has really opened my eyes to the mechanics of the cello and its history, which just makes it that much more fascinating!

4. The Baby is healthy! — And I’m right on target for weight-gain, so all things said, everything is actually really good. The baby’s been kicking up a storm this past week (little energy legs, and maybe the occasional fist bump, too), and the hubby got to feel it for the first time this weekend, which was awesome. If the baby being healthy and growing just as he should isn’t what matters most, I don’t know what is. 

5. I got out of the house and was social. — I actually got to enjoy some great friend time this week with two close pals of mine. With one, we had a chance to grab dinner and a movie, and with the other we went to IHOP to satisfy a BLT craving I was having at the time. It was delightful and refreshing, and while I perhaps let those things distract me from my weekly goals, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. It’s always so great to see and visit with them and to be reminded that we’re all in the same boat, trying to make our post-college lives into something we can be proud of and excited about. It’s not always easy, but I know we’re all on the right track, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. 

There were a number of other good things, too, come to think of it. Like so far (*fingers crossed*) not coming down with the flu like my dad and my hubby did this past week, and locking down some good editing ideas, and reading a bunch in MINDFUL BIRTHING (which is my go-to “calm the hell down; it’s going to be okay” book). I also discovered that writing by hand IS a lot of fun, and while it is slower (see below), it often results in some very snappy scenes and sequences that seem to lack the fluff I normally stick in when typing. The cats haven’t been especially obnoxious at night. I got a good ways towards finishing the Apex project, too, and just have a bit left to finish up Monday/Tuesday, and then that’ll be done. The hubby, due to said illness, got to come home a bit earlier than usual this week, which meant (despite wearing medical masks to limit my exposure that first evening) I got to spend a bit more time with him this weekend than usual, which is always a plus. That meant he was also here when he received some bad family news, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, but no less difficult to hear, which meant he wasn’t alone or driving back here when he heard. So all in all, it was a busy and good (minus the bad news) week, even if it wasn’t the week I’d planned or hoped for. 

That said, there are a few tweaks I’m going to make to my writing plans in order to hopefully facilitate a more dependable productivity in the coming weeks. 

1. I’m going to limit myself to editing OR rough-drafting one story a week. – I used to be able to multi-task multiple projects at one time, but lately I’ve found juggling projects much more exhausting and complicated. Perhaps it’s working on two short stories (rather than one short story and drafting a novel) that throws me off these days. Anyway, to see if the multitasking is part of what makes my head spin, I’m going to tackle one project at a time and FINISH it before moving on to the next, hopefully with week-long goals still intact. This next week, I shall continue the rewrite of “The Miracle of Jane” into a flash fiction, and see how that goes. Once that’s done, I’ll pick up where I left off on the octopus story, because so far, I really like it and just keep getting distracted by editing. 

2. I’m going to write in the mornings, after breakfast. — I tried the whole “write right when I wake up” thing, and it just doesn’t work for me. With the cats and my parents’ dog and my usual inclination to get warmer (the house temp (controls downstairs) is usually down pretty low in the A.M. and it’s up to me to adjust it to what I’d like), and then my pregnancy related need to pee first thing in the A.M. pretty much gets me up and moving too much to then feel justified crawling *back* into bed, and by then the fuzzy fluff-brain of sleep is pretty much gone. So I’m going back to writing after breakfast, since that actually saw results. Lesson learned!

I may try to read more in the afternoons, but I’m leaving that open-ended for now, since reading one book a week hasn’t actually been a problem as of yet. If it’s getting done, why change anything? Plus with various outside work that needs to be focused on a bit, my afternoons may be a bit wiffly for the next couple of days, and I don’t want to have to keep more goals in mind than the two above. Baby steps, I remind myself! Baby steps!