Accepting Failure/Taking Time/Doing Work

It’s hard to write about failure without making anIy piece feel like a sob session and a ploy for sympathy. But the fact of the matter is that, this month, I failed. You may have heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I didn’t commit to NaNoWriMo, which is a pledge to write 50,000 words by the end of November. There’s a similar, less intense endeavor called Contentpalooza that I was invited to participate in. Contentpalooza is a commitment to create 30,000 words worth of content or 30 images (a picture being worth a thousand words–right?).

I accepted the invitation and joined the Facebook page and posted about a few times this month that I cranked out some content and was happy about it. I was gung ho, ready to work, ready to put fingers to keyboard. And then I let life get in the way again. I failed to reach 30,000 words. I barely reached 5,000. I failed.

I’m not going to abdicate responsibility.

I let it happen. I allowed other things in my life to take up my time. My father has a saying: “You can’t make time, you can only take it.” In short, it’s all about priorities. And something that I was so excited about, so initially committed to, I dropped off my priority list. I was busy. I had things to do. Things that I chose to allow to take up my time.

Yes, I was in the final weeks of rehearsal for a play.
Yes, I have kids.
Yes, I work.
Yes, I have church obligations.
Yes, I teach yoga on Saturday.
Yes, I take the kids to Scouts.
Yes, yes, yes.

But these are excuses. More accurately, these are the things that I use as excuses. Because when I wasn’t tending to these obligations, I wasn’t really doing anything.
Not writing or exercising or reading books or knitting or crocheting or baking.
I wasn’t making anything outside of rehearsal.
I was Facebooking, Words With Friendsing, Scramble With Friendsing, playing Solitaire, watching TV.
I’ll even confess that I was barely even doing anything around the house.

I’m happiest when I’m making something. This is a cardinal truth. It is natural law. I am a creative. And one of the things that is the most rewarding for me as a creative is writing. I have this gift, this talent. I am mostly squandering it by not doing the work. But why?

I’m tired. The last three years have been a long, hard slog through the quagmire that has been my life. I finally am emotionally coming out of some hard things: deaths, disease, bad doctoring, surgery, grieving kids. And while that might seem like a cry for pity or sympathy or empathy, it isn’t. It’s a big part of the reason why I don’t want to do the work even though I am called to–even though there is some beacon burrowing itself into my synapses telling me that to be content, to be fulfilled, I must write.

The call right now is to tell our story. To tell Colin’s story. I’ve told it to people in person what seems like hundreds of times. I’ve told it partially in some blog posts. I’ve shared it in bits and pieces on Facebook. I laid it bare in a gut-wrenching interview for Transforming Loss: A Documentary. It’s a story that I want and need to tell.

But I haven’t. Not because the desire isn’t there, but because the will isn’t. I’ve been working hard, mostly at putting my psychic house in order. Making it through a day without falling apart. Still grieving, but not mourning. I’ve gotten in the habit of babying myself a bit. Not demanding too much emotionally, physically or mentally of myself. Oh, sure, I’ll overschedule myself on a regular basis, but it’s usually a choice. And it sometimes seems to me that this overscheduling is a sort of subconscious subterfuge. A way to keep myself from doing the work I need to do by distracting myself with all of these other things I love to do.

But here I am. Writing SOMETHING. Working myself up to get back on the horse with our story. I wrote about 1500 words of it and walked away. I hesitate to go back to them because I may just need to chuck them, and while editing and “killing your darlings” is part of the work, it’s not fun. It’s like getting 10 rows into knitting a shawl and realizing that you should have changed stitches on rows 4, 5, and 6. So you rip it out (knitters affectionately call this “frogging”, because you “rip it, rip it”) and start all over again.

Maybe that will happen, or maybe I’ll love what I wrote in the first week of November.

Regardless, I’ve accepted November’s failure, and know that the best way to recover from it is to do December’s work.

And look, here I am, on November 30th, getting a jump start.

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  1. Well first thing is never beat yourself up. tomorrow is a new day and you can start over. You wrote 1500 words, so that is something to celebrate!

    I continue to marvel at all the things you do, and that you do them so well. I have been thinking about the overscheduling business myself and wondering if I use it as a excuse for my own lack of writing production.

    You have been through a lot, and I’m glad you recognize the need for self care. That is crucial. And you are worth it 🙂

    • Thank you. I also have a talent for self-flagellation, but I think I’m losing my taste for it, thank goodness.

  2. Darling…put the whip down because the self-flagellation gets you nowhere – but the self-care will eventually get you every where.

    The word-count thing can be motivating – or un-motivating. Like you, I was gung-ho in the beginning but counting my words the week of Thanksgiving.

    What if…now isn’t the time for you to write Collin’s story? Putting pressure on yourself to write one thing when you aren’t quite ready just keeps you in this mode of busy but not writing.

    What if now is the time that you write about fluffy things like knitting and delicious things like chocolate cake and zen things like learning to meditate or taking your first yoga class?

    Give yourself permission to play with your writing – to write about any and everything instead of what you think you’re “supposed” to be working on.

    All of the other writing is building your muscles so that when it’s time to write Collin’s story, you’re writing muscles – and your courage muscles – are better able to support you.

    You will get there.

    • Thank you, Deb. Wise advice, once again. And I wrote again today, about hooping. I know you’re right, and I’ll get there. And I do have some other things that I really want to write about, so maybe once I dislodge those, the rest will start to come. I know that I’ve got the talent, but now I need to practice to hone my craft. The art will come if the craft is polished. That’s another lovely lesson from The War of Art. Thanks so much for that recommendation. Changed my whole outlook on my work.

  3. Rachel, I found your blog from Still Standing. I too have a story of a daughter to tell. Can I just say, as a fellow knitter, I HATE frogging. And I think that is also why I am scared to start in on the work of telling my story. But you are brave in what you write here. Thank you for your honesty. I do think that babying yourself is a good thing, though, and I’m finding I need more of that self-care than I’m often willing to give myself. I hope your writing can also be about taking care of your self too!

    Thanks for stopping by my site too…I look forward to hearing how December goes for you.

    • I’m so glad you found my blog. It’s rare that I think of myself as brave, but I will thank you for the compliment! Writing is ALL about self-care for me. It’s also my true calling–it won’t let me go! So far so good this month. 5 days in a row total and every day in December thus far.

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