When failing feels good

failureI’m going to fail. I set myself the goal of completing the rewrite of this draft of the novel during my annual leave. With one day to go I am still several thousand (20 of them, to be precise) off my word count target.

I’m pretty happy with this failure though: it was not through lack of effort. I have worked steadily, doing several hours every day over the break but two. I needed to complete the structural work and do a line edit. I thought that the bulk of the cutting would come from the structural edit but as I needed to add some new chapters in, I only managed to cut 3,000. As this is my first novel, I’m learning as I go: I learned I wasn’t nearly brutal enough, and that it takes longer than I thought.

Many, many darlings have been killed as I go through asking ‘Does this advance the story? Does this set a tone? Is this repeating information elsewhere?’ Slash, slash slash. I’m about a third of the way through and I am a little concerned  I won’t make the 90k target. The draft gets tighter as I approach the climax, so I’m not sure I can lose as many words from the last third. I’m relaxed about it though. The worst thing that can happen is that I have to do another run through with the red pen

I’m a sprinter, not a long distance runner*: my natural instinct is to run at things like a bull at a gate. Mostly my madcap schemes fail because I haven’t got the energy to keep them going. Writing has taught me about pacing yourself and the value of persistent, steady effort, something I generally associate with routine and boredom. Of course, I’m never bored in my story world. Just as well, given it looks like I have to spend a lot more time there.

I wish I could apply the lessons from writing to other parts of my life. There’s a new theory about choosing your life’s direction according to “the shit you are prepared to shovel” i.e. what struggle are you prepared to endure?

what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings Mark Manson, Quartz

I guess what it comes down to is that I’ve found something for which the struggle is worthwhile. Perhaps I need to acknowledge that I’m just not that into some of my other goals. Maybe I should break up with them, instead of failing all the time. It’s not you, diet, it’s me.

I’ve tried to avoid setting resolutions this year (I’ve fallen victim to false hope syndrome too many times to be a believer) but I do want this year to be a steady year. Last year I pushed myself far too hard: I want to take better care of myself. Hopefully this post will remind me what progress you can make when you persist.

* Metaphor alert: I am really 100% couch potato.

5 thoughts on “When failing feels good

  1. I think you’ve done the opposite of ‘failing’ – apart from the progress you’ve made in editing your novel, you’ve found a better approach to life! I don’t know if any of us will ever crack it but if you can apply a way of thinking about things that leaves you feeling positive more than negative, that’s as close as any of us will get. I think success should be less about concrete quantitative things and more about how people end up feeling. If doing something makes anyone in the world more positive then … HOORAY!


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