When the wheels fall off my life, I like to use it as a chance to reassess what I’m doing.
And this last couple of weeks, the wheels did kinda fall off. I’m talking action-movie style, tyres spinning off into burning alleyways while the metal underbelly of the cab churned against bitumen, rose-gold sparks spraying into the air until I crashed into a truck and burst into flames.
I did it again, didn’t I? I over-inflated an innocent metaphor and killed the poor bastard. Well, fuck it. As a writer, I reserve the right to make a mountain out of sawdust.
Anyway, the whole life unravelling thing pissed me off all the more because I’d made a great start to April. In terms of writing productivity, I was more productive than at any time in my career, with the probable exception of my NaNoWriMo efforts. It’s all thanks to my involvement in the Perth troupe (band? auxiliary? battalion?) of the #5amwritersclub. A bunch of us from across WA check in with each other on Twitter at 5am, churn out some writing and by 7am or so, we’re done. We keep each other accountable, get work done, and foster friendships by communicating solely through monosyllabic grunts, GIFs and references to how much we hate being awake at 5am.
Although I was initially kind of coerced into it, joining the club is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my writing career. Since joining in March, I’ve already used my early starts to complete three short story drafts: one called SECURITY, about a security guard (defo need a better title); one called MOONLIGHT (which has a title I love); and one based on my career as a banker, which I am not going to name yet for a couple of reasons.
Not only does developing a regular, early-morning writing practice boost my productivity, it also helps me start each day with a sense of achievement. I can get ready for work in the knowledge that I’ve already done my creative writing for the day, and I don’t need to stress about fitting it in when I get home all exhausted from my
hellish day that nobody could possibly understand fairly cushy university job.
But because writing in the #5amwritersclub makes my day, and my week, so much brighter, it wields the power of a double-edged sword – much like the kind Mickey Rourke tried to kill me with. (Sorry, I’m a hardcore 30 Rock fan and can’t write the words “double-edged sword” without making that reference.)
The point is – if I make it to the #5amwritersclub, I’m all pumped for the day. If I miss it, I’m back in Hulk Smash mode.
And so for the past couple of weeks, when I was staying up too late and overtired from work and marking papers, I began to struggle to wake up at 5am at all. Even 6am became impossible. I faltered. I was waking up more tired than when I went to bed, and I barely appeared at the morning roll call. And then last week I pretty much threw it in entirely and gave up.
Then it flowed on to everything: my eating (my meals were fine, but I snacked a lot while marking … helloooo Lindt dark chocolate), my exercise schedule (I only did two and a half workouts instead of four), my sleep (don’t have to be up at 5am? browse the Internet until you pass out!) and my overall wellbeing (I became overwhelmed and overstimulated by even the slightest things).
I even went to write a blog post about how I was failing at everything, and then I couldn’t even make the time for that. It sat there for days with nothing but a vague title that I later deleted.
Yes, I literally failed at writing about how I was failing.
I pushed all my writing tasks and the things I wanted to do back further and further, until they were looming over my weekend, and then I got sick. I left work on Friday with a sore throat, checked in the mirror to see lumps of pus the size of Ukraine on my tonsils, and called it a week. I flopped on the couch after work, and when I woke up I was dizzy and exhausted.
I spent most of Saturday in bed, steamrollered, and that was the point at which I stopped trying to make my week less of a failure. You know what? It just was. The whole week sucked. I sucked. Everything sucked.
Oddly, once I just accepted that, it became a lot easier for me to bear.
I have such a resistance to failure. Maybe it’s my own overachiever personality, or maybe the way society generally encourages us not to associate with failure (because who wants to be a loser?), but I really resist accepting when I’m beat.
But I think, sometimes, it’s okay to acknowledge that your week, or month, didn’t go the way you planned. You didn’t get everything done that you wanted to get done. Goals and deadlines went unmet. Perfection was not attained.
And I’m learning that failure does not kill you; resisting it does.
And treating a one-off failure as a permanent state of being can paralyse you.
So, I’m going to try to view my failed week in the same way I view my successful weeks. That is, having a whole week of failure as a writer, just like having a whole week of success, is:
- part of the process
- not a permanent state of being
- does not mean next week will necessarily be the same
- not indicative of my value as an author
- not indicative of my value as a homo sapien
In the fighting video game Tekken (or at least, in the 90s era Tekken 2), losing a fight resulted in the game announcing in a sinister, almost mocking voice:
But it was never GAME OVER immediately. The game always gave you a choice to continue. You could go on fighting, maybe learn from your defeat, modify your technique and come back again with a win, or you could give up and choose game over. The choice always remained with the player.
Having a shitty week is a gift in a way, because it gives me a choice: I could accept my bad week as game over, or I could spam the X button to continue the game and try again.
And the vigour with which I hit that X button tells me everything I need to know about myself. That I don’t need to worry about failures and setbacks, as long as I get back up, brush myself off and try one more time to defeat Kazuya.
So, I spent Sunday night reassessing, and making new goals for the week ahead, and here I am at #5amwritersclub, writing a new blog post. That’s one goal down.
It’s a new day, and a new week lies ahead, spread out like a dewy valley, untrammelled by either my boots or my neurosis. Anything can happen if I make it happen.
So, I’m back in the saddle and ready to get some shit done, but I think failure deserves three cheers for getting me back here.
6 thoughts on “You Lose. Continue?”
I was one of the foundation members of the #5amwritersclub, but I haven’t actually fronted up for weeks. I love that you guys are keeping the seat warm! Maybe I need to feel shittier about my lack of productivity, so I’m pushed into doing more. 😉
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But you’re getting loads done at KSP, Louise, so you’re probably surpassing all of us in terms of productivity right now! And noooo, feeling shitty is bad and the worst kind of motivation.
Will be great to have you back at 5am when you return! 🙂
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Just a suggestion from a long-suspected literary slacker (with, to be fair, all kinds of long-term, real-life distractions) to one who has already documented their own recent “corner turning”…this perhaps wasn’t so much a “failed week” as a “less than optimal week, owing to a combination of both wilful and unforeseen over-commitment, and a reluctance to reassess and re-set priorities.” All of which I COMPLETELY empathise with. I went back to the education sector full-time last year. I wanted to get up early and write for an hour or two before I started studying. It might be a legitimate failing of mine and a legitimate personal regret that I couldn’t. Then again, maybe I ought to simply recognise my respective abilities and limitations. I was intellectually and emotionally engrossed by my coursework, and my proto-fiction simply had to wait. I hadn’t the capacity to immerse myself in both, and thereby do both the justice they deserved. Not at the same time. Now, I might be a “waste-of-space” because I can’t multi-task and compartmentalise my priorities to that degree and to those ends, or I might just simply be Me. It always looks different, depending on who’s looking at it, and what they want to see come out of it.
These days, I let my writing take the time it needs to take. Which has its upsides and downsides. Which has elements of both personal protection and facilitation, and straight-out avoidance. There is no “right way” that will ever satisfy everyone, including yourself. I’m just saying this as a fellow toiler in the field, who has similar issues, and is just trying to get through in a way that eventually brings me out above the “break-even” line without wreaking too much havoc or failing to meet responsibilities elsewhere.
Judging by your previous blog-posts, I’m sure I’m preaching to the Converted (but Wayward) with this comment. I’m the same. Power to your pen (and/or keyboard), and a speedy de-pussing to your tonsils… 😉 🙂
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Thanks Glen for your comment. You have a great way with words, haha. You are quite astute in your observation that my over-commitment is both wilful and unforeeseen, and I am reluctant to reassess and reset priorities! It seems this is a common problem for several of us writers, ay?
Agree with you – we need to go easier on ourselves in terms of the self-flagellation stuff. You’re not a waste of space – and nor am I. We’re just humans doing our best.
Glad to hear from you and look forward to hearing how your study and writing journey progresses from here mate.