Confession of a scatterbrain, or how to fail fast

Pile of files
What my pile of projects end up looking like…

It always starts with good intentions. “I’ll focus on this one book,” I think. “Plus my blog. This one book and my blog, I can manage that much! Well, that plus a creative course once in a while. Oh, but here comes a short story challenge! I want to try that too! Just one short story per month, I can manage that much! And what a nice – free – writing contest! I want to try!” Urgh.

I get exhausted. I miss blogging weeks, I neglect my novel.

I translated something a few weeks ago on the concept of “failing fast” in business: you try new products, give up quickly those that don’t work and pursue the ones that do – it’s often more cost-effective than extensive market research. At the time, I failed (haha) to see how I could use it in my own life; it seemed more of a business-oriented concept. Plus that implies… you know… actually failing. I hate failing more than the average person. I hate failing like only a perfectionist can. I’ve been to unreasonable lengths to avoid failing.

That’s plain stupid.

In February, I said how Joanna Penn’s How To Make A Living With Your Writing inspired me to make a plan for my writing career… Career. I’ve always been disgusted at the idea of considering writing as “work” because, for me, work was inherently boring and repetitive, and something you’d never do if you were rich enough. I could be a billionaire, I wouldn’t stop writing. Writing is what I live for. I want to write for a living only so I can have more time to write. But now might be the time to change my mindset regarding work.

Because if writing is work, then I am allowed to fail any writing project. In fact, sometimes it could be desirable that I do. So, here’s me failing fast (and publicly) at the 12 short story challenge and the writing contest. I tried those on a whim, they got in the way of my novel and my blog, so they’re a failure and I need to let those go. And you know what? I don’t feel like I am a failure like I thought I would.

I feel free.

Now I can focus on what really matters right now: my novel and blog, and nothing else (writing-wise, I mean). Maybe a creative writing course in May if my finances allow it. Two projects plus my continuing education. Right now, with work and a preschooler to raise, that’s all I can manage, and it’s okay. Time is a precious – and limited – resource so I need to use it sparingly.
Cage1
But I know very well that I’ll still want to take on new projects… Hanging loose, they’d fly round and round my head and keep distracting me. So I made a list of those projects that tempt me the most. It’s an adequate cage for such creatures; I can go on my merry way, knowing that I can come back later, when I have more time, and pick one up without being scared of them flying away forever.

I failed and it freed me.

Of course, applying the “fail fast” strategy will be an ongoing journey, but I’m confident now that I can stop my hatred of failure from interfering with my productivity.

On another note, I’ll experiment with deadlines for publishing my blog posts in the following weeks… Mondays have been especially busy for me these last few weeks, so one less thing to worry about on that day will be much welcome.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
– J.K. Rowling

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Love yourself!

BearYou are kind,

full of respect

and compassion

for mankind.

Against aggression, you take action!

You won’t let your friends be treated unfairly!

So why do you bully

yourself?

I am intimately acquainted with self-hatred. When I was at my very worst,  I believed myself even too incompetent to live. One shrink got mildly angry at me and said I wasn’t even trying to help myself. I told her that I was beyond hope and that I was sorry I was wasting her time.

Of course, that was the depression talking.

Eventually, I got better and regained some self-love. I created that persona of mine, bought pretty clothes, took care of myself. I started doing more of what I loved the most. I tried hard to love myself despite my faults, but I would still have episodes of acute self-hatred.

Last week, this interview made me realize I was still doing something wrong: the thing is not to love myself despite my faults. It’s to love myself with them.

If a person was a painting, then their personality traits would be the different colours.  When looking at the picture, you don’t think “this colour is good, this one is bad”. You look at how the colours interact and see what they portray.

You’ve got only one picture. It’s not finished; it’s a neverending work-in-progress. You can keep adding to it. But it is much easier to do if you don’t try to change it completely and then beat yourself up when you don’t succeed.

Learn to love and respect your picture the way it is. Identify what still needs works, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. These things take time, so be patient. Take breaks. When you screw up, wipe and start again.

I find that the more I love myself, the more confidence I have, the more I feel in control of my life and the happier I feel. These are all interconnected.

Do something you love today. Take care of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up: that never helped anyone. Here’s a nice post by Jason Connell on how to love yourself.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy the chocolates.

Fox

*By the way, I’m aware that my poem is amateur-ish, but I love it anyway.

Overview of 2017 and resolutions for 2018

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Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you were able to relax a little during the holidays. I have, and now I’m ready to start the new year head on.

However, before I make any resolutions I’d like to reflect on the past year: where 2016 was a year of breakthrough and dreams, 2017 was one of “reality check”. The first quarter of the year was marked by anxiety and frustration due to my lack of income. I also a hard time trying to edit my first novel, which led to the dispersion of my efforts.

Early April, I started working again with a revenge, some 50 and 60 hours a week, which I sustained surprisingly long before I burnt out in September. However, that didn’t prevent me from getting a sense of direction and starting the rewriting process on my first novel. In fall, I also took a creative writing course, which I think helped me improve my skills considerably, and got the amazing opportunity to beta-read Marnie Shaw and the Mystery of Yapton Farm by Deborah Wallace.

In November, I participated to NaNoWriMo, though I also took care not to exhaust myself again. In December, I slept a lot, did a lot of house cleaning and spent a lot of time with my family in order to start the new year in the best conditions.

I checked 5 of my 13 resolutions (#4, 7, 11, 12 and 13) which isn’t so bad considering everything that happened. Also: more important than those goals was “finding a source of income”, which I did.
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For 2018, my theme will be: the warrior’s training. Being a writer, I see my own life as a story (or a series of stories). If I gave up writing early 2016 and then went back at it with a revenge by mid-year, but was slapped in the face in 2017 by reality… I must be at that point in the story where the hero, after having been defeated, needs to train much harder than ever before to vanquish his enemy. That could also be the moment where the hero gets a mentor using unconventional methods.

karate-kid

In other words, I intend to get out of my comfort zone this year. I’d love to try variants of the exercises I did during my creative writing course (poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction). I have no plan yet, but something like one short piece every 2 weeks a sounds acceptable, though most likely, I’ll only start in April. And if I can gather enough courage, I might even publish some of them online.

Reading-wise, this year I’ll allow myself to indulge: I’ll read whatever I want whenever I want. Last year, I tried to read more modern novels, but though most of them were good and some even excellent, I often found myself wishing I was reading something else. That might explain why even just reading 13 books took some effort. I’m starting the year with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. ♥

Besides my theme, I’ve also set a few goals for the year:

1 – Rewrite my first novel

2 – Continue blogging weekly (or almost weekly) and being active in the blogging community

3 – Read at least 13 books

4 – Take another creative writing course

5 – Experiment with poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction… maybe even comics!

6 – Take care of my physical and mental health

7 – Furnish my house (at least one room)

Quite a bit fewer resolutions than in 2018, but I’m aiming for 100% success this year (or at least 85%)! I’ll print this list them and paste it on my wall to keep it in sight all year.

Do you make New Year’s resolution? Do they help you reach your goals?

A persona of myself

selfie01aA year ago, I had this crazy idea of creating an online persona. I was going through one of these phases where I hate myself and wish I was somebody else, when I realised that with the internet I could be someone else. Nobody would know it wasn’t true.

I’d create a character for myself, the person I’d love to be. She’d be beautiful, stylish, elegant, classy, smart, sensitive… I could dye my hair, photoshop my face, use a pen name. There were no limits to whom I could pretend to be. I mean, obviously I couldn’t pretend to be famous or anything, but… I wouldn’t want that anyway.

Hannah Jane McMurray 03
Ida would look more or less like Hannah Jane McMurray

The name I chose for her was Ida. It’s made up the 3 central letters of my full name. If I was to make it big or get found out as a “fraud”, I could say cool stuff like “Ida is my core self”.

She would be a writer. Not a famous one, just… a surviving one. Ghostwriter, maybe? That would explain why her name couldn’t be found anywhere. She’d be driven, she’d know how to get things done, unlike me. She wouldn’t bother with countless hobbies like I do, either. She’d be writing, reading… maybe just… playing piano in her free time (I do play a little).

She’d be 30 something and have written several books. She wouldn’t let herself get sidetracked. She’d be quite assertive, too. And a businesswoman, out of necessity.

Her beauty routine would be psychotically perfect: she’d exercise 6 days a week, eat healthily, keep a steady weight all year long. She’d take excellent care of her skin, paint her nails, go the beauty parlour every week. Her house would be clean, her garden well-groomed.

Belle 03
Art by Arisbeth Cruz Hernandez

Oh, but she’d have to have a few faults, or else she’d look superhuman. So… I guess… uh… well, she’d be a perfectionist like me. And then… wait, I gave her too many qualities, she looks like a freaking Disney princess. She wouldn’t be assertive; she’d be a shyish introvert like myself. And she wouldn’t be so pretty. It’d be a bother to heavily photoshop all of my pictures anyway. There is no need for a writer to be model-pretty.

That’s when I realised the beauty to die for was the only unachievable characteristic – that is without surgery and time-consuming daily routines. Nothing was keeping me from becoming that person. I could take better care of myself. I could give up those hobbies that didn’t make me feel like I was doing anything of value.

Ida became me. I was fine with it; I was good enough. I already was who I wanted to be, all that was missing was a clear path to follow.

DIGITAL CAMERAThen, gradually, I became more like the original Ida. I became more driven; I wrote two first drafts; I gave up all the extra hobbies I could; I even started going to the beauty parlour every few weeks. I still gain weight in the winter to lose in the spring; my house is still messy most of the time; my lawn is half grass, half dandelions. It’s fine. People gotta have faults, hey?

Becoming a surviving writer might never be possible. It doesn’t matter, being a struggling writer is good enough.

Who would have thought I’d have to create a fake identity to find my true identity?

Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magical person that your are.
– Mandy Hale

What’s the worst that could happen?

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Anxiety by Fukari

When you get sick, people will offer you plenty of free, well-meant and mostly unwanted pieces of advice. Some of them are good, though they often imply that you’re too dumb to use Google, they’re just… not enough. Like, if you have ever had serious insomnia coupled with anxiety, it is very likely that you’ve tried a Spartan regimen of steady sleep hours, phototherapy, heavy exercising, complete avoidance of all caffeine and chocolate and neurotic avoidance of refined sugar, and still… it wasn’t enough. It’s ok, I’ve learnt to roll with that.

My problem is when the advice is plain bad. Like when a nurse, of all people, told me that whenever I was anxious about anything, I should ask myself: “What’s the worst that could happen?”. Darling, I’m a writer. An excessive amount of traffic in the morning could end up with me getting stabbed in an alley.

That bad advice works on the premise that your mind is healthy enough to calculate the probabilities of that particular scenario to actually happen. But a) unless you’re a superhuman math genius, I don’t think anyone could realistically estimate that kind of probabilities, b) anxiety disorder is a sign that the mind is not healthy and c) an imaginative person will come up with at least a hundred scenarios or variants that all suck, which increases the probabilities of one of them or an unforeseen variant actually happening.

xmas-65-x-smallNot to mention that anxiety often comes with depression (which was severe at the time I got that advice), and asking yourself what’s the worst that could happen only makes you focus on the negative when really, the problem is exactly that everything you can think about is negative.

Another fundamental problem with that piece of advice is that when you’re anxious, it usually is not because there is any danger right now. It is precisely because you’re afraid of what will come next. So instead of focusing on the future, you should focus on the present.

For example, right now… it’s alright. We can still eat without rationing ourselves and very literally tighten our belts because that made us lose weight we didn’t have to lose. We’re not in debt, either (aside from the mortgage, but that’s not traditionally considered a debt despite its creepy name: mortgage *shudders*).xmas-64-x-small

What also helps me is keeping in mind that the situation is only temporary. I’m sick right now, but it doesn’t have to be always the case. Also, I’m doing everything in my power to get a job and I know I’ll get one eventually. I know that.

But then, anxiety isn’t restricted to the conscious mind. In fact, mine barely even bothers going there; it knows it’s not welcome. Instead, it lives and thrives in my unconscious, expressing itself through fatigue, irritability, muscle pain and poor concentration. Good luck controlling that.

an-act-of-true-love-will-thaw-a-frozen-heart-elsa-and-anna-36903902-245-150So what’s left for me to do? Accept and love. Accept that my mental health has its ups and downs, that right now I’m in a down and that it affects my life negatively; and love myself, fragile mental health and all. Because really, my illness makes me suffer enough in itself, no need to make it worse with self-loathing. Besides, loving myself is a pretty good motivation for me to take care of my health.

People think Frozen was awesome because of the feminism in it (not sure what they thought Mulan was about). I think it was awesome because it dealt with anxiety. Elsa spends most of the movie struggling with anxiety. And does that make her any less awesome? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, love and acceptance do nothing for my physical pain, but that’s what meds are for.

Happiness can only exist in acceptance.
– George Orwell

 

Resolution for 2017

Happy New Year, everyone!lettering42-1-14

January’s book review will be pushed to next week since special occasions outrank scheduled posts.

Today is the very first day of the new year and I want to take some time to think about a theme for the year to come. What I mean by theme is actually a very vague resolution like “become more self-confident” or “take better care of my health”. In 2016, my theme was to maintain my mental health. I have actually improved it a little.dream-on

For 2017, I want to continue what I’ve started in the second half of 2016 and which actually helped my mental health: following my dream, which is writing, if that wasn’t clear enough yet.

I have one decent first draft that I am currently editing/rewriting and one “very first draft” (or a 50,175 words outline if you prefer) that I have no intention of touching again this year. The year has 365 days. Knowing that, let’s make goals.

2017 theme: plot your own life (I’ve borrowed that idea from a friend)

Plotting my own life means to stop just going through every day passively as I would do in a former life and start working actively toward what I want. That means being mindful, every day, that what I do or do not do will determine my probabilities of getting where I want to go.

So this year, I want to plan my next moves because really, that’s the smart thing to do and most importantly, that’s my M.O. in everything else, so why I failed to make a bigger plan for myself (and stick to it) so far is beyond me.

Here are the goals I’ve set for myself in 2017 (in no particular order):

  1. Finish rewriting book 1.

    tower_of_books_by_platapiotr-d2y0o47
    Tower of Books by Platapiotr on DeviantArt
  2. Have book 1 beta read;
  3. Edit book 1 again;
  4. Participate to camp NaNo in April with my NaNo community;
  5. Finish another first draft;
  6. Read at least one book every two weeks on average, for a total of 26 books this year. As a writer, I should read at least this much. See my list on Goodreads (subject to changes);
  7. Continue to post weekly on this blog;
  8. Write or edit anything daily;
  9. Take a walk at least 5 days a week to avoid becoming too sedentary (with some luck, I’ll find a job within walking distance from my home – that is, less than 60 minutes and this point will be a no-brainer);
  10. Research editing, pitching, querying, publishing, (or any other relevant subject surrounding the publishing process);
  11. Research blogging;
  12. Work on my anxiety;
  13. Take at least one Creative Writing course.

Thirteen goals; it happened like that, but I’m glad it did, 13 is my lucky number.

As you can see, “publishing on Wattpad” is not there; that is because, since I wrote a book, I might as well use it to experiment with traditional publishing. I have no real hope of actually finding an agent or getting that particular book published (I’d rather it not be my official debut novel), but I believe that “practice makes perfect”, and that it’s also the case with pitching and querying. I’ll probably end up publishing that book on Wattpad eventually… just not in February 2017.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
― Eleanor Roosevelt.

End of year wrap-up: in 2016, I followed my dream

card-3Next week is Christmas, and the one after that is New Year’s Day. So this week, I want to take some time to reflect on what I have accomplished this year.

My 2016 resolution was to remain mentally healthy. I achieved this. I had my moments when I was especially down or anxious, but I was able to push through and be my normal self again. That much is a win.

I also “kinda wished” 2016 was the year I’d finally complete the first draft of… any of my stories, really. I did it, and then some! Although I “gave up” writing in February (you can read more about it in my never-ending ramble post Thanksgiving Day), the need to write was too strong and I started writing again in August… Two months and a half later, on October 31st, I finished the first draft of my guilty pleasure novel. One month later, I won my first NaNoWriMo after several years of failure (writing a thriller, no less!). xmas-29Oh, and then there’s this blog that I was able to update once a week since the first Sunday of October. May I take this opportunity to thank everybody who follows me, like my posts and comment on them? You’re the best! Also, I’m behind in replying to you and reading your blogs due to a rough end of semester, but I’ll make up for it, I promise!

That didn’t happen in a vacuum; I had much work to do on my mindset. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but somewhere along the way, I forgot why. A quote wormed its way in my mind and made me remember. It goes like this:

We are what we repeatedly do.
– Aristotle

That’s right, I want to be a writer because I want to be writing. So simple, right? Then, isn’t it odd that I don’t spend every spare minute doing that thing that I love the most in the whole world? Sure, I liked those other hobbies. But at some point, I weighed every single one of my hobbies and decreed that I could keep them only so long as they don’t infringe upon my writing time.

xmas-40The first two or three weeks, there were times when I thought, again, that I didn’t have what it takes to finish a novel. That’s when being in a community of writers came in the handiest. After that, I pretty much started to “fly on my own”. Once I took the habit, I needed the habit. Writing at night, after I’ve put my daughter to bed, is the highlight of my day. It’s also the time when I get to relax. For someone with an anxiety disorder, that’s huge. That’s vital.

The writing habit, it seemed, helped me start a positive cycle: writing helped me relax, which helped me sleep better, which helped be more agreeable to those around me, which made them respect my writing time. All of that also helped me have a more positive attitude toward writing. That also decided me to do a certificate in creative writing.

I also found out this year that the University of Toronto as a whole range of online courses in creative writing. I’m seriously considering registering for the autumn 2017 semester.xmas-28

In the near future, I have to find myself a job, something that won’t ever require me to work 50 hours a week. Thirty hours a week would be the best.

A lot of people seem to have disliked 2016. For me? It was the best year I’ve had in forever.

You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.
– Shonda Rhimes