The Habit of Failing

As much as this blog is about anything, it's about writing.

And, as much as it's about writing, it's about my belief that one of the keys to writing is building the habit of writing.  Which is to say, no matter how much you want to write, no matter how great the stories are inside your head, if you don't tell them -- in this case, writing them down or typing them up -- then you're not writing.

I spent a good number of years doing just that.  Socking away stories and promising myself I'd write tomorrow, or over the weekend.

For the past two years, however, I discovered something new.  I'd finished The Seven Markets, edited it, and published it, mostly just to see if I could do it and how that would feel.  Protip: I could and it felt great.

With Markets in the can -- as they say in the movie biz and do not say, so far as I'm aware, in the writing biz -- I went on to the next thing.  Oh, and my wife had a baby.  I've already written about how that went (babies take a lot of time and headspace), but lately I've been thinking about the new thing I found, trying write and help raise a small person.

Which is to say: calling myself a writer, wanting to write, making the time to write, and just . . . being too tired to string words together into sentences, sentences together into paragraphs, etc., etc.

In other words, I'd built the habit or writing, but without meaning to, I was also building another habit.  The habit of failing.

Pre-Layla, my standard was a thousand words in a night.  Most nights I wrote more, some I wrote less, but the "goal" was a thousand words.

I started off The King's Glamour, and things were rolling nicely.  I was cranking out my thousand words, two thousand words, and everything was great.

Then work got crazy.  Then parenting became less about helping maybe change a diaper and more about, say, rocking the baby to sleep for an hour.  Two hours.  You know the drill.

Suddenly I'd sit down to write at midnight or one in the morning -- remember, the habit of writing was strong, and I was dedicated to at least making a go of it no matter how late the hour -- and decide I should be happy with two hundred words.  One hundred words.  Fifty words.  Some notes about what I wish I'd written, and what I'd promise myself I'd return to write tomorrow night.

And slowly, as these things do, that became my habit.  Suddenly I was happy to get a hundred words.  More, I'd write a hundred words and that would feel like what I expected of myself.  I forged ahead on the book, writing, deleting, writing, deleting (Markets is about 85,000 words and I probably threw out close to 400,000 words by actual count, for instance, including fully one-quarter of the book going from first draft to second draft), telling myself so long as I was writing, I was doing things right.

But I'd built myself a bad, new habit.  I'd gotten used to failing.  Worse, I began expecting to fail.

When I finished the third draft of Glamour, instead of doing my usual thing and sitting on the manuscript for a while, then diving back in to edit it, I decided to jump right into something new.  "Something new" has been going nicely, but early on I discovered I had to unlearn some bad habits.

I couldn't be "good enough" anymore.  I had to kick some ass.

Ass-kicking needed to be the default.  The habit I needed to build now wasn't doing "good enough".  I needed to psych myself up for a thousand words.  Two thousand words.  I had to be hungry again, not satisfied for the scraps from my own table.