A discussion of failures.

For me November has been a month of new experiences and learning curves.

I started this month with the high minded idea (along with thousands of other people all over the world) of writing a 50,000 word manuscript for a novel in under a month. I failed; miserably. After the first week and a half I just plain ran out of steam… no pun intended. At this point I’d written 14,021 words – almost double that of either of my university dissertations – and had managed to get all my main characters from their starting points to the main first focus of the story, but then I hit some brick walls.

I determined on Nov. 1st that I would not jump around my story and write all the fun bits only to end the month in a dull drudgery of filling in gaps, I’ve seen my good friend Tom trying to write a book this past year and failing for precisely this reason. This meant that I got to a “boring bit” but couldn’t push through it in under a day, meaning I lost a lot of heart. This probably could have been side-stepped but something else got there first. What finally killed my NaNoWriMo experience was a job interview that needed a week of prep-time in which I couldn’t justify the writing for NaNoWriMo – but more on this later.

What did I learn from the experience? well firstly and most impressively I can write fiction – no mean feat after four years of “the observer is separate from the observed” training, and the depressing way that creative writing is “taught” in school. Even more baffling perhaps is that apparently it’s not “bad” writing either; an acquaintance of mine who writes for a living very kindly looked at my first ten thousand words and commented that:

“I was able to forget that I was reading a draft and enjoy it as much as if it was a finished product. That’s a huge achievement for a beginning writer — in fact I’m quite jealous, because I couldn’t have done anything like this… when I was your age!”

Which I’m taking as one massive pat on the back, the other thing I’ve learned is that I should have planned more. It’s no understatement to say that I had only the vaguest idea of plot and characters by the end of October, and I’m pretty sure this didn’t help when enthusiasm hit a low point in week two.

Finally, I’ve learned that not only can I write fiction, but I really enjoyed doing it. Even though I haven’t succeeded in meeting the quotas for the NaNo event, I’m not going to give up on my novel, but will do some more planning and come back to it afresh in a few weeks time after the end-year glut of job applications have passed.

Speaking of job applications, the one that de-railed NaNo for me was another new experience, both one of being 100% qualified for the job (a rare thing without a PhD in my sector), but also of being a strong candidate for the post. I didn’t get if of course (this would be a very different post if I had), but I came second. That was initially quite a galling thing to be told when I received the phone-call the day after interview; but by an equal measure a huge encouragement too, as I now know that it’s not my interview technique that’s bad, or my applications, or even my CV. It actually is just that we’re in a recession and the fact that so many more people are applying for the same jobs than if it was a booming economy – and believe you me, I was beginning to despair.

Might I also add at this point that despite popular opinion; no matter how many times your friends or parent’s say “Don’t worry; something is bound to go your way eventually.” it never actually makes a positive difference to your mood, at least it doesn’t to mine. I know this is always meant as a kindness, but if anything it just blackens my mood.

So anywho, November has been a month of apparent failures for me, but as with all things there were silver linings to be found, and for once; they were easy to divine.

Ben D. Brooks
01/12/2012

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