I hate failing.
(I know, I know. Extremely unhealthy place to be mentally. I’m sure when I can afford to do so, both in time and money, I’ll unburden myself to a good therapist.)
It took decades for me to realise — intellectually, if not emotionally — that failure is an essential part of learning.
This is especially true of writing, or any sort of creativity.
In my most recent author newsletter — for which you can sign up here, if you’re so inclined — I spoke briefly about setting myself career milestones, rather than yearly goals.
This is because I hate failing to reach annual goals.
Life will always throw curve balls at you, no matter how much you plan otherwise.
No amount of colour-coded spreadsheets or blocked-out calendar appointments can anticipate the three hours of sitting in an emergency room waiting for a child’s arm to be cast or an out-of-hours call from work with a problem that cannot possibly wait until Monday.
(At least, that’s how things seem to happen to me. Frequently.)
I, therefore, find it difficult to stick to time frames when it comes to my art.
(There is an argument, I know, which says I could better manage my time. But random chaos is the narrative I’m sticking with here.)
Failure to achieve time-dependent goals, for me, always leads to frustration.
Frustration leads to guilt.
And guilt is arsenic to my creative process.
I’ve tried loosening the restraints on my goals: easing up on deadlines, only taking work with enough breathing space for me to work in.
(But, as I’ve spoken of previously in this blog, when I’m stuck in the umbra of the anti-muse, it can take me an eon to climb out from its shadow.)
I’ve tried loosening the annual goals ever further, only to be wracked with guilt at not pushing myself hard enough to succeed in this business — the mantra, after all, seems to be to publish or die.
And on the occasion I have managed to meet tight deadlines, I’ve always felt my calibre of work has suffered as a result.
The guilt of both not setting myself worthy goals and of not attaining them when I do was a canker to my creativity.
So, I needed another driver.
Life coaches (so I believe, having never actually consulted with one) often advocate breaking down larger goals into bite-size pieces to make digestion easier.
But that, obviously, wasn’t working for me.
So I turned the idea onto its head. I aimed, instead, for the larger goal, or the next career milestone.
And rather than set a time limit, I chose merely to always keep it in my sight — striving in small, nondescript steps toward it.
From where I stand, I’m focused on the next milestone only.
Surprisingly, I’ve found this change of mindset very liberating.
I am enjoying the journey, again.
I call it career orienteering — I know the checkpoints I need to reach, but have no idea which path I’ll take until I hit the ground, get a feel for the lie of the land.
As long as the next milestone is within sight, and I’m not fretting over missed opportunities, I am a contented writer.
Most shocking of all — and probably most healthily — I am learning to live with and appreciate failure.
Copping story rejections on the chin, incorporating harsh beta reader feedback, knowing when to let a failed story go (OMG! That’s a whole other blog post, right there) — most days now, I can take these in my stride.
Turns out the journey is more important the destination.
My most recent milestone, in case you were wondering, was to sell a short story that I alone had created.
(My first two sales were for pieces that my mentor had assisted heavily with, so I needed to prove to myself that I could do it solo.)
And I did.
My next career milestone is to break an overseas market — that is in the US or UK.
(All my short story sales thus far have been to Australian publications. And while I’ve no problem with that — I’ve sold four, so I must be doing something right — I feel it’s time to broaden my publishing horizons.)
I’ve confidence I’ll get there. But, for now at least, I don’t care how long it will take.
(Ask me that again in a decade or so, if I’m still trying.)
All images from Pixabay
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