Tag Archives: Failure

Writers Write

That really is what this is all about.

Writers write and I haven’t been writing as much as I could. I could blame the migraines – and they are a factor – but really what is wrong is me. I’m afraid that I’ll work really hard and get nowhere. If I only work at 20% of my potential it’s okay that I failed. I wasn’t working very hard anyway.

How’s that for honesty?

Last year, the 3-Day Novel contest was the highlight of my life. It was like training and finishing a marathon. I did what I set out to do and some of it wasn’t half bad. The day after the contest I got up early and went to help out at my Mother’s gymnastics academy. I was stupid, tired, and well stupid. I’m also sure I wasn’t pleasant to be around.

What I wanted to do was continue writing to build on the momentum.

It was a high unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I wanted to feel it again. I remembered that Harlan Ellison quipped something about not needing drugs – he was naturally high all the time. That weekend I understood (at least I think I did – if I got it wrong Mr. Ellison please forgive me). That kind of creation, whole and uninterrupted by anything from the outside world… heady stuff.

This year was different.

By the time I started the 3-Day Novel I was 8 days into a migraine. Day 1 was the killer, everything after that was mind numbing, vocabulary dulling, depression making pain. The type of migraine most often depicted by fiction is a short, day or less, intense burst of pain and nausea. I got that… then after that wore off I got days of midrange pain that the drugs could kick but only for a finite period. When they wore off I was back where I started.

It didn’t help that the last time this happened I had one of these things for 31 days. I didn’t have much hope that it would magically go away.  

But, I can be stubborn. So at 12:01 am on Saturday I started my 3-Day Novel. I wrote for a few hours, went to bed, woke up with a migraine, wrote for awhile, took drugs, went back to bed, got up and wrote for while, then just gave out… only 6k words of the 10k I needed to make my goal.

That night I tried a different drug, hoping it would last longer and I could work more. No such luck, I lost all of Sunday.

Monday, I tried again, only 4.5k and then dinner with friends, because by then I knew two things. 

  1. I didn’t have a 3-Day Novel
  2. I did have a good start for my first full length novel

Out of something bad comes something good.

Tuesday I got up and worked some more – another 3k and some great scenes, hints of discoveries yet to come, and the introduction of a character that makes my heart sing with joy.

Today, Wednesday, I’m up again, writing and working and planning another long day.

What I couldn’t do last year – build on the momentum of the 3-Day Novel Contest – I could do this year. I’m writing more, more consistently. Which is what I needed to do to make this work – stop using migraines, family and friends as tools of procrastination. I write a lot… now it is time to move to the next level and be prolific!

After all… writers write.

~ Tess

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And then at the end of the story….

Sisyphus by Titian 1549 Source: Wiki Commons

Last month I decided to start writing my first novel.

It is now this month. My progress could fit in a thimble.

My stated goal was to take two months to write it and then one month to edit it. We aren’t talking great literature here – think of it as the literary equivalent of a TV show rather than a big budget movie.

The problem is, and surprisingly enough I didn’t know that until this morning, that I couldn’t see the progress. When I worked as a project manager I like the short projects. The ones you could mark done at the end of a day, a week, or a month. The problem is, most projects don’t end. Not really – they seem to go on forever dribbling and drabbling on you. And in my case, making me miserable.

Somehow, working on a novel brought all that badness back. Like a black hole of badness it pulled everything else in destroying all of my newly minted good writing habits.  

I still need to write it. Don’t get me wrong I am sooo not giving up.

But working on the novel, and the short stories, and the novellas, and the blogs (I know what blogs?), and dating… I didn’t know how to put all of that together.

Not sure I know now… but I know better.

I won’t bore you with the fine details, because it got very strategic the last few days, and I have my life worked out to a level of detail that surprises even me. We’ll see if it works. I still have my monthly, weekly, and daily word counts, but I’ve shifted things around so that I can work at the bookstore and have weekends with the boyfriend without feeling like I’ve trashed my week.

Pattern is good.  

I’ve also recommitted to the blogs and scheduled that too. So we’ll see. Nothing like a new plan to get up and moving in the morning.

Wish me luck!

~ Tess

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The Failure to Communicate

I’ve been very curious about where the breakdown in communications happened which lead to there being no notification that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was attempting to enter the US.

So I’ve been following the news and wondering what the failure was.

And thinking…

We tend to take the easy rout in these cases and point a finger at an organization saying “They didn’t do their job.” My sense is that it is always more complicated than that. Communication is difficult in the best of situations – in most cases it is like playing telephone. What the message is is never the message heard.

When I look at a process (and we are talking about process here) the process of communicating information we talk about hand-offs and points of failure. Usually when I did analysis like this it was within a small company with only a few departments and under 100 employees. Yet even that web of communication was so complicated; with multiple hand-offs, points of failures, and black holes. The black holes were the most fun, when I hit those no one could tell me how things were processed they magically happened “most” of the time.

You start looking at a large organization communicating with other large organizations within different countries…and the complexity goes up exponentially. Not only are we talking about the process but we are talking about the time the process takes to work.

While I’ve been musing on this and thinking about the complexity of it I happened to listen to a podcast of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

I know, not your typical news source, but in this case they handed me the key.

The question to one of the guest panelist went something like this (poorly quoted):

Last week a spokesperson for National Security stated that they had solved the problem and nothing like what happened with the attempted Christmas bombing will happen again. They have added a software program to the State Department’s systems. What software program is it?

The answer was spell check!

I had to check this out and it turns out that this was the reason our agencies couldn’t correlate Abdulmutallab’s fathers warning. Someone typed his name into the database incorrectly.

From the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy’s opening statement before the House Committee on Homeland Security on “Flight 253: Learning Lessons from an Averted Tragedy.”

In the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on the day following his father’s November 19 visit to the Embassy, we sent a cable to the Washington intelligence and law enforcement community through proper channels (the Visas Viper system) that “Information at post suggests [that Farouk] may be involved in Yemeni-based extremists.” At the same time, the Consular Section entered Abdulmutallab into the Consular Lookout and Support System database known as CLASS. In sending the Visas Viper cable and checking State Department records to determine whether Abdulmutallab had a visa, Embassy officials misspelled his name, but entered it correctly into CLASS. As a result of the misspelling in the cable, information about previous visas issued to him and the fact that he currently held a valid U.S. visa was not included in the cable. At the same time the CLASS entry resulted in a lookout using the correct spelling that was shared automatically with the primary lookout system used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and accessible to other agencies.

After all my deep thinking on all the possible points of failure in the system – I never would have hit on a misspelled name.

Sometimes it is the smallest thing.

Communication is difficult – communication through multiple countries, agencies, and people can hinge on minutiae. Who would have expected in this day of Google, Wiki, and all the other sophisticated systems out there that it would have hinged on the misspelling of a name?

Granted most spell check systems are not as amazing as Google’s search algorithms but it would be helpful to add something either in the spelling or in the data search function to provide relative searches and common name spellings.

I assume they are attempting to close this gap, but horrifying to know it existed in the first place.

~ Tess

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Fail Faster!!!

One of my mottos is “Fail Faster”!

I stole it from a very good business book called “Weird Ideas That Work”. The book is about creativity and how to utilize it in business.

Over the course of the last few days I realized I was failing. I felt I had two choices – continue to do what I was doing – which was getting me nowhere – or admit failure and move on.

I admitted failure and moved on.

Then I did what any good project manager does I reviewed the projects to see what worked, didn’t work, and what lessons I had learned.

The novella I’d been working on for the last three months was not progressing. It didn’t flow and although I thought the concept was brilliant it was looking more and more like I wasn’t the person to write it. The journey the characters were on didn’t resonate with me and the story was turning dark in a way that made me uncomfortable. There are times when discomfort is good – it can mean that you are on to something digging out parts of yourself buried so deep that they haven’t seen the light of day.

But this wasn’t good discomfort. I kept making fundamental errors about the characters because I kept trying to make them safe and they wanted to be dangerous. They wanted to walk on a dark side that I’m not sure I have. I can imagine it but I don’t think I could become it enough for the story to resonate with truth.

So, I put it away.

I may come back to it. I don’t know. I’ve moved on.

In a day and a half I have already done more with this new novella than I’d accomplished over the last two weeks with the old one. The theme is lighter, the pace quicker, and it is missing the psychological edge of the other. Best of all, I am happy.

What I’ve learned?

Just because I can dream it it doesn’t mean I can write it. When I hit on something I really like I write in a different way and the ideas come as I need them. I don’t spend hours agonizing to put words on paper or finding things to do other than write.

If you find yourself unhappy, trying to accomplish something that makes a visit to the dentist seem like a day in Cancun, then you are not doing the right thing. I’ve wallowed in failure. I’m sure many of you have. I was stuck in a job that was not a good fit and although I got things done I never felt like a success. Each day was a struggle, every day a failure, the only success I found was in surviving it.

Failure has become a bad word in our society – but failure is a part of us. If we succeeded at everything life would be boring there would be nothing to achieve because achievement would be meaningless.

Admit failure.

Look at it honestly and dispassionately. Discover the why of it and understand what when wrong. Then go and do something else – something glorious and new.

~ Tess

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Final NaNoWriMo Installment – The value of failure…

So… the big news, I didn’t write a novel this month.

I guess I could get hung up on that – but I’m not going to. Failure teaches us things that success doesn’t. And getting good at failure – acknowledging it, accepting it, and moving forward – is one of the greatest lessons in life.

A month ago I started working on this blog – which meant writing every day. It happened to coincide with NaNoWriMo and I knew there could be conflicts. Researching and putting out product at regular intervals takes time and mental energy. I also sent off two short stories and wrote a third one. All in all I produced 32,563 new words in the month of November and placed them in some sort of creative order. Now they weren’t for a novel so they don’t count for NaNoWriMo but I was excited when I added them all up.

That’s an average of 1,137 for each day I wrote.

Now – to make the life that I want happen I need to up that to ~ 5,000 words a day. This month taught me that I can do that – not because I did it – but because I kept going. To me writing is like training for a marathon. I’ve become a pretty good sprinter but learning how to work over the long haul is my next challenge….

That, after all, is what NaMoWriMo is all about. To attempt, in the month of November, to write 50,000 words so that you can get a feel for writing a novel. It takes effort – and a different kind of effort than writing articles every day or the random short story.

So here is my list of things I learned…

  • I write best in the morning
  • Sometimes I have too many ideas and have trouble focusing on just one
  • Too much writing crap frustrates me
  • My non-fiction skills are rusty
  • I love writing my blog
  • When I don’t like a story – I can’t write it to save my life – okay maybe to save my life but nothing less
  • I’m not working hard enough
  • Facebook is the root of procrastination – as is random web surfing
  • I have trouble flipping from the blog work then into the fiction work – it seems to work better the other way
  • I can write after one scotch, but not after two – unless it is poetry  
  • When I get up from the computer it takes effort to go back, but it is getting easier

I started this journey with a very specific goal – I have a YA Paranormal idea that I am very excited about. But as the first week progressed I became less and less enamored with it until finally abandoning it. Then I picked up a Horror story idea I’d been kicking around for awhile and started researching that… but it petered out to nothing. My main focus was the blog and I couldn’t seem to create room in my head for a novel.

Learning to split focus –

I haven’t yet learned how to split my focus between the blogs and the fiction. And that needs work – as does marketing my blog – thinking about moving it off wordpress.com and setting it up on its own site. There were so many different things pulling at me and it’s been awhile since I’ve had to manage my day like that. I’m still a project manager at heart so I just have to give myself a plan.

And then there were the migraines – but that is a story I’m not ready to tell.

But like I said, writing like this is like running a marathon. You practice. Working up to longer and longer runs, eventually getting good at it, running effortlessly with ease and joy. Building up stamina and focus and pretty soon you’re writing your novel.  

At least that is my current working theory… if there are any ideas out there let me know. There are as many ways to write as there are people… new input is always welcome.

~ Tess

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From 3-Days to 30…

Today is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month! I’m very excited because the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest was so much fun and I’m dying to see what happens when it is expanded to 30 days. I know it won’t feel the same. The 3-Day experience over Labor Day weekend was amazing. It was my first time and it was a blast. The most important things I learned were… 1) Turn off the phone, 2) Turn off email, 3) Write. In the end I produced a 26,000 word novel “Any Man’s Death” and submitted it.  So, 50,000 words in the month of November shouldn’t be a problem.

I love deadlines. I love creativity under pressure!

There was a wonderful Think Out Loud that propelled me into the contest. The topic was (surprise surprise) Creativity Under Pressure  and it reminded me what a rush it when you have a strict timeline and have to produce. Also I think that most of us reason that creativity is something outside our selves, something that comes to us like the mythical Muses, and not something that we work at.

Yet I disagree. I don’t think creativity is like a lightning strike – I think it is a process like anything else. Once that can be learned, honed, and strengthened. Truly creative people don’t have one idea – they have gazillions. They try and fail, try and fail, ad nauseum. They aren’t successful because of a lightning strike and luck – but because they worked for it and had timing on their side.

In “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the “stories” we tell of successful men and women and how that differs from the reality of how they get where they are. The point of most interest for this discussion is how hard you work at your craft.

Get your 10,000 hours in!

If you want to be great at something you have to spend 10,000 hours doing it, if you want to good aim for 8,000, if you want to be okay 4,000. Doesn’t matter if we are talking about a computer programmer, writer, musician, lawyer… you need those hours. Practice, do, practice do… repeat. The harder you work the better you get… but the magic number appears to be 10,000 hours.

Good writers don’t just write – they write obsessively. Good musicians don’t just practice – they practice obsessively.

Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty good. I’m pretty good at a lot of things – I was a pretty good actor, a pretty good dancer, a pretty good opera singer, scientist, teacher, project manager….and while I was being pretty good I got to experience a lot of life, different people, different professions. It was great! I didn’t have the drive to spend 10,000 hours at one thing. I wanted to be everything.

But that’s changed now – I’m working on my 10,000 hours.

The more I write, the better I write. The more stories I tell, the better I get at telling them. The more ideas I use, the more ideas I come up with.

There are some concepts that you read and they stick with you… for me it was the idea of “Failing Faster”. In Robert Sutton’s book “Weird Ideas that Work: 11 ½ Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation” the weird idea that spoke to me the most was failing. In his chapter about “reward(ing) success and failure, punish(ing) inaction” he talks about rewarding intelligent failures and to “remember that innovation is largely a function of productivity”. Later in the book he talks about killing failed ideas quickly but not reducing the rate of failure. Failure is okay and as long as you keep trying it can be the road to success.  

I think of it as throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.

So how does this all relate to the 3-Day Novel Contest and National Novel Writing Month? It’s simple really – I think, for me, creativity and productivity are related to assured outcomes. It is incredibly difficult for me to write a story knowing that the odds are against publication. But if the object is the process and the outcome assured (I get certificates for each of the events/contests) then suddenly I’m reveling in the journey not the destination. Ideas flow and are weeded out, pruned back, and harvested. There is pressure, there is a deadline, and there is something I can say I accomplished.

Strangely enough – it is enough.

So I feel that I am working on my 10,000 hours – because I want to be a great writer – and I am failing faster – trying different things, genres, methods, formants and styles. And I’m using contests, events, and this blog to get me there.

Thanks for joining me on the journey!

~ Tess

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