Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Failure for Writers

My writing marathon to finish The Second Realm is going well. Yesterday I finished the third of four episodes in the final story of the series. I set myself the goal of approximately 25,000 words by the end of July, and I'm currently on 20,783 with ten days to go. I'll probably overshoot to the tune of 2-3,000 words, which is fine by me.

It goes to show the power of setting definite failure conditions. Wanting to finish a project is a pretty nebulous desire, one that can be put off and off and off again quite happily. It's easy to tell yourself that you're still 'working on' a project while doing nothing towards it; in fact, delaying the end of a project can forestall the scary business of choosing a new project, which is an added advantage.

Wanting to finish a project by a certain date is a stronger, more precise desire, but if the date is self-imposed it's only as strong as your willpower. Since, in my case, willpower is what I've been lacking, a few such self-imposed deadlines and targets have slipped by. Even during this marathon, I allowed myself a couple of days off that I shouldn't, just because it's really hot and humid (by British standards, anyway) here, and I find that hurts my concentration and energy quite badly.

Wanting to not fail, though, that's a different beast. Failure is scary and horrible any time it appears, even if the worst I'd suffer from failing as a writer is having to go and get a proper, grown-up job. Telling people, "I'm going to do X amount of Y by day Z" sets up something to work away from, as well as towards. Whether or not anyone actually notices you saying so, whether or not you think anyone will actually follow up on it, the bony, putrid spectre of failure is now on your trail.

There's a deeper truth about writing here, too. Assuming that you're in this for the writing (and I still believe there's no other reason to be in the writing business), the only real failure is not doing any writing. Failure isn't just giving up, or not starting in the first place; failure is also not making progress. If you're 'working on a project', but telling yourself you'll actually work on it later, when conditions are better, you are failing.

That's not to say that you can't have a day off, now and then. In addition to the two days where I didn't write because my brain felt like soup thanks to the weather, I took a day off to help my housemates rearrange a bunch of furniture so they can do some redecorating. I'll probably be taking another day or, if progress permits, maybe even two to help with actually doing the decorating, towards the end of the month. Real life is, unfortunately, real, and when there's good reason and clear limits, it's fine and even necessary to let it come first.

But again, it's clear limits that matter. Taking time off because of the weather is dangerous because I can almost always find some excuse in the weather for not working (I hate pretty much all weather, even when I stay indoors). Taking a break to help a friend decorate works because there comes a point when she's finished decorating.

Of course, you should take all this with a pinch of salt; I'm writing this now partly as procrastination against starting the final episode of The Second Realm...

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