I am a Failure! (And it's not a bad thing...)
It's that time again: The Million Words Project update for week six!
Check it out here:
As always, if you'd like to watch on YouTube instead, here's a link: https://youtu.be/4bo5CwimEA0
And the transcript is featured below if hearing my voice puts you to sleep!!
Pivot! Pivot! Being Flexible With Your Work, and Yourself: MWP Week Six
I'm a Failure! (That isn't always a bad thing...): MWP Week Six
There's a famous scene from the television sit-com, Friends, in which Chandler and Rachel are trying to help Ross save some money by moving a couch up the stairwell of his apartment building.
(Insert clip from Friends: Pivot! PIVOT!)
In my creative, business, and personal life, I've learned how important it is to pivot when I hit a wall, structuring my work environment to allow me the flexibility to change course when necessary, and how crucial it is to offer myself some grace and kindness when I don't measure up to my own expectations.
I'll talk about all of this, AND give you an update on my progress in this week's episode of...
Welcome to the Million Words Project update for week six!
I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt, author, writing instructor, and creativity coach.
I've challenged myself to write ONE MILLION WORDS in twelve months. Each week, I'm going to give an update on my progress and share some of the ups and downs of this challenge.
Along the way, I'll share some things I've learned—and am often STILL learning—about my writing life, about creativity in general, and sometimes even things that spill over into other areas of life.
My hope is that these videos will ignite YOUR creativity, light your entrepreneurial fire, or otherwise inspire you to take on a challenge you've been putting on the back burner for too long.
In pursuit of your BIG THING, small steps lead to big results. By sharing some of my path, I hope to encourage you, too.
Let's start this week's journey.
Well, it was bound to happen sometime, but here I am, sharing with you the first weekly result that fell below the weekly target of twenty thousand new words. This week's total was about 19,400 words.
This was an odd week, creatively. Last Friday, I had been told by my project editor that a ghost-writing client I'd been waiting on was ready to proceed, and based on that information, I had blocked out considerable time for that work.
I'd planned to write about eight thousand words this week, and another four thousand next week.
However, as Monday rolled around, the editor let me know that the client hadn't paid the next installment for the project, and therefore, I wasn't yet given the green light to move ahead.
Obviously, this changed the trajectory of the entire week, and I needed to recalibrate.
From left to right, you'll see the Journaling category was back in the normal zone. Or close to it.
I did some work on a non-fiction essay, as demonstrated in the next column.
I rewrote the last couple paragraphs of a different client's final draft of his ghost-written book, in the Client Projects column. (Though, two hundred words is far from the eight thousand I'd budgeted for that column this week.)
And, finally, despite my pledge last week to reign in the Life Document work, my weekly total popped up above thirteen thousand words again last week. That's about double where I want it to be, but, it was also where I was feeling a lot of energy and flow, given the unexpected turn the week took, so I allowed myself to indulge a little bit.
Additionally, I was still reeling a bit from the prior week's major shift in routine, and I had several non-writing tasks that had been neglected which I had to make up.
I was also going though a bit of a struggle to decide about this entire Million Words project, trying to decide if it would be worth the effort that was being put into it. And, while I'm not completely sure the answer to that is YES, you'll notice that I'm still here, and still planning to keep up the series.
All in all, I ended up about six hundred words below the weekly target of twenty thousand new words written.
At the end of last week, I was eleven thousand words ahead of pace, so one week of missing out on hitting the target is negligible.
While it's not a big deal to miss the target this week, let that be a warning bell to not get too comfortable thinking, "Ah, twenty thousand a week is easy!"
For this week's topic, I want to talk about a few of the mindsets I employ as I push forward into the second month of counting my words, and hopefully, those are some ideas you will find applicable to your life, as well. So, let's dive in...
One of the possible outcomes in setting a goal, or challenging myself to doing something like writing twenty thousand new words every week, is that I might miss the mark.
For a BIG THING goal, that kind of failure might be a major disappointment. For something like this Million Words Project, it is important for me to keep things in perspective.
I missed the target this week, and, honestly, that's okay.
When I was deciding on how to reenergize my writing and creative life, I knew I wanted a challenge that was a stretch, but still achievable. And, since this is a long-term challenge, with a year's worth of data points on the horizon, I also knew there would be up weeks, and down weeks.
I've been watching a lot of videos of rocket launches, lately. From the Apollo moon missions, to archival Space Shuttle video, to the more recent efforts by NASA and SpaceX, I'm fascinated by how intricate the whole process is.
From concept, to design, to construction, to testing and liftoff, thousands of people spend millions of man-hours to get a somewhat safe, semi-reliable rocket off the ground.
And then, when in flight, computers and people are scouring data to make sure the flight is going as planned and attempting to spot the smallest inconsistency that might cause a catastrophic failure.
Supercomputers and specialists pour over the hundreds of data feeds—the telemetry data—trying to assess the success of the flight.
The main purpose of the Million Words Project is to provide me with telemetry about my rocket ship of a writing life!
Okay, that analogy is a little grandiose, but I know that studying the data of my writing life helps me know what's happening now, and has provided me with historical comparisons. It helps me know myself, and, it helps me measure, in real time, what is actually happening.
To go back to the strained rocket analogy for one more second: There are lots of things that happen during a rocket launch that look, from the outside, like something really bad is happening.
The space shuttle used to have these paper covers that gave some small amount of protection to some external sensors while it was on the launch pad, but then during liftoff they would come flying off.
From a certain angle, it looks like large sheets of insulation are flying off the orbiter, and after Challenger, that was something even the commoner knew was a bad thing.
But those paper sheets were harmless. They just looked dangerous.
In my writing life, there are all sorts of things that might make it seem like I'm not writing enough, or not writing the right things, or otherwise not making progress. The data I'm collecting here in the Million Words project is one of the ways I have of understanding what I'm actually seeing. Is it a paper cover, or part of the all-important heat shielding that's being stripped away?
But, the conclusions I draw are only as good as the data I collect. Could I have written 600 more words, at 11 PM on Saturday night, just so I wouldn't miss my weekly goal?
But the weekly target is not really what's important. What's important is reinvigorating my writing life, and then finding balance in how I am applying myself to the half-dozen or so BIG THING objectives I hope to yet accomplish in this life.
This isn't about ticking boxes and giving myself gold stars. Yes, it's rewarding every week when I pass that twenty thousand word mark, and I can "let down my guard."
But I also know that negative data can inform me of what's actually going on. Knowing what is actually going on is much more important than fudging the numbers and, thereby, lying to myself.
There are a couple of concepts I try to keep in mind about this project.
First, this Million Words challenge is a tool, not an end result. I want to push to meet the challenge, while keeping my actual big picture goals in mind.
Second, I know that in a year-long challenge like this, I need to keep two words in mind: GRACE and PACE.
GRACE is the grace to cut myself some slack, accept a missed target, and assess what can work better next week.
PACE is the idea that over a long-haul, there will be weeks where twenty thousand words feels like a picnic, and other weeks where it feels nearly impossible. But if I keep up a steady attack, this challenge is doable.
Third, flexibility in attitude, and in process, can really help. Especially in my situation—where I have multiple, diverse, long-term projects I am working toward—knowing how and when to pivot is really important.
Assessing the data I collect each week, and knowing my own personal work habits, strengths, and weaknesses, I can pivot.
So when my client work got pushed back, I had other objectives to pursue.
But, also, looking at the data collected so far over six weeks, I realize that I need to be more proactive about the balance of my weekly work. I need to pivot toward what is important.
Over the coming weeks, I will be more mindful of the big picture goals, and adjust my focus accordingly.
Finally, given all of these thoughts, I know for certain that no matter how well-planned, and how structured I try to make my life, there will, inevitably be a week, or a month, where nothing goes as planned.
So I know that I should accumulate words, ahead of the normal pace, whenever I can. That way, I can miss the mark every now and again, and still be on track for writing one million new words in one year.
This is especially true when I find myself in a flow state, cranking out words in that mystical, almost spiritual in-between state where I'm wrestling words and co-opting my subconscious to create something unexpected. And thankfully, with renewed focus on my writing, that flow state is visiting more often.
Of course, if I'm talking about a bigger goal or a creative objective, and I fail— That's maybe something I want to spend a little time mourning. I've had plenty of ideas that never panned out, and even a few things I really had my heart set on achieving, but for various reasons—some out of my control, and sometimes due to my own failures—those things did not come to pass.
I'm not going to tell you that failure is always easy to brush off. But I do know, that when I fail at one thing, it doesn't do anyone any good—especially myself—if I wallow in that defeat.
Mourn the loss. And...well...yes. Pivot to something else.
Abraham Maslow, who you may know as the developer of the idea of a hierarchy of needs, has been quoted as saying, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety”
One of the hardest things to do when things don’t go according to plan is to adapt and work toward your desired result anyway.
It’s far easier to shrug and turn on Netflix or go eat a whole box of donuts.
(Those are just two personal examples.)
Sometimes, we will go for the easy route. I know I do, more often than I’d care to admit.
But, with every setback, there is a choice: do nothing, or pivot back toward what matters.
Doing nothing depresses me. Pursuing what matters is where I find the energy of life.
Maybe you’ve been in a period of stuckness in the past. Maybe you find yourself in one now.
It could be that your old systems and methods aren’t working.
Or maybe you’ve never quite found the right path to build momentum in pursuit of your BIG THING.
Maybe the thing you thought you wanted to accomplish wasn’t the right project to go after.
Maybe the circumstances of life have seemingly conspired against you.
If you find yourself in the position of feeling you’ve lost too much time, gotten too far behind, or wasted good opportunities, I would like to encourage you to acknowledge those feelings, and then pivot back in the direction you want to go.
Unless Elon Musk is working on time travel in addition to his other ventures, we are probably stuck with the past, but we can still make the pivot back towards what matters today, and tomorrow, and the next day.
Even if it’s just a little step each day, or twice a week, those efforts can add up. Small steps, lead to big results.
Points to Ponder
As we start to wrap up, let me give you a point to ponder this week.
I’d like you to write about a time when you pivoted. It doesn’t have to be related to creativity or your BIG THING project that's full of meaning and purpose.
It doesn’t have to have been an heroic effort. It could have been as simple as getting all dressed up for the big anniversary dinner and finding out the restaurant where you and your beloved had your first date is now a Halloween Costume store, so you started a new anniversary tradition, bought a couple of costumes, and got a burger dressed as Cleopatra and Caesar.
The important thing is identifying an incident in your life where you were flexible, where you made the most of a bad situation, where you rescued success from the jaws of defeat.
Just write it out, like you’re telling a story. Use dialogue. Build up to a climax. Describe the setting.
It doesn’t need to be Pulitzer worthy. This is just for you. But I want you to add at least a little flavor to it.
After you have a little narrative, go back and think about how you made the pivot. What qualities or skills did you utilize.
And then, for another couple of minutes, write about yourself in the third person, and describe yourself through the lens of those qualities. It may just be a few sentences, or you may find that you’re writing more than you thought you would. Just let your pen (or keyboard fingers) run free. And see what comes out.
That's all for week six.
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Until next time, remember: Your words matter. Make them count.
Credits and Contact
The Million Words Project is a production of Words Matter Creative Writing.
©2022 Eric Sheridan Wyatt, for Words Matter Creative Writing
Contact Eric@WordsMatterESW.com or see the show notes for more information.
Week Six: Written, filmed, and hosted by Eric Sheridan Wyatt where football season means hearing people say, "Who Dey?" in Northern Kentucky.
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