Failure is an event not a personality trait

failure1

We have to be willing to risk failure to truly live and give back to the world. If there was no risk of failure involved, then there was no challenge to begin with.

Everything I do, I do with all the fervor and passion I can muster. I give it all that I have, yes sometimes that means it comes out all wrong especially when I am first learning to do something. In fact, the worse it comes out, the better because then I’m able to see how much I improve along the way. Of course, I don’t think this at the time. Usually I tell myself how I will never learn it, there is too much to know, I don’t have time to learn it all. Eventually, I stop freaking out and apply myself.

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly” G.K. Chesterton.

What does this mean? Why would we want to do something badly? we don’t really want to do things badly that’s not what Chesterton was trying to convey. It’s more like what I was saying above. If we do something badly, but we have put in our best effort, we are going to learn and improve. Failure is an excellent teacher.

When we fail at something, we beat ourselves up for hours and sometimes days. We make it into some huge self-defining moment and not in a good way.

Failure should never be used in reference to a person or a piece of art in any of its many forms. A failure is an event in a specific moment in time. What may be seen as a failure now could be a huge success in two weeks.

If we write a novel and it never sells to anyone but our parents, we just have to keep writing. We have to work hard to get better and produce better stories. Stories that touch the heart of readers. Not everyone is going to like what we produce, and that’s fine because we don’t write for everyone. We write for those who share our passion.

If you write trying to please everyone, you will fail because you are not going to say anything worth saying. You will shy away from anything that may offend the left side of society or the right. Writing isn’t about walking down the middle. It’s about jumping over the edge to reach the rest of the outcasts, your tribe.

cliff jumping

 

 

Writing Space and First Drafts

I am Writing

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about making a space for me to write at home. Up until now, I have just sat at either the living room table or the kitchen table. This arrangement requires me to pack up all my writing gear and move it from place to place. It also means my writing doesn’t have a home.  In my home, I have a room called an office in the basement. No one uses the “office” for anything but a library. A library is important don’t get me wrong. In fact, it’s necessary at my home. There are bookshelves along each wall, and most of my books can be found there.

I’ve tried writing in the “office,” but it never works well. My dogs need in and out of the house to go see their friends, sniff the strange spots in the yard, feel the warmth of the sun on their fur, and all the other stuff dogs do. The coffee maker is upstairs. My children are upstairs. You would think that being downstairs away from the children would help me focus, but it doesn’t. They actually come and interrupt me more when I am downstairs where they can’t see what I am working on.

I realized that this had to change if I was going to make writing a priority. So, I created a space in my bedroom, which is on the main floor, where I can write. I have all of my books on the craft, pens, pencils, notebooks, laptop, children, dogs, and coffee within easy reach and supervision.  I can open the window allowing in the sun, birdsong, and the summer breeze.

Sky, my youngest son who is thirteen, came in and sat on my left while I wrote. He didn’t interrupt. He just watched. The dogs curled up with one another on blanket on my right. Jazz, my oldest son who is 17, popped in and asked questions and let me know what he was planning for the day.

My writing space is not fancy, but it’s mine and it communicates to me and everyone else that writing is important to me. Having a space also preps your brain to get into its creative mode. If you always sit in the same spot to write, when you sit down the creative juices start flowing. With children, my writing time is scattered between all my other responsibilities as a single mom. Having a space always ready and waiting is important because if I have to take the time to set up each time I have five minutes to write, the book will never get finished.

I finished the outline of my fantasy novel tentatively titled Syrain’s Marrow early last week, a whopping 33 pages. It took a few more days to cut and paste it all into yWriter. I had Thursday off work last week because in Utah, Thursday was a holiday, Pioneer Day, commemorating the day Utah decided being a state was more important than bigamy being an acceptable practice.

I took Friday off work to start my first draft and frankly, I needed a break after a busy on call week the week before. I was also able to spend some extra time with Sky.

So far, I have found my outline to be immensely helpful in maintaining my focus and keeping the words flowing. I believe the biggest complaint about outlining is that it is too restrictive. I haven’t found that to be the case.  Since I have scene after scene already outlined I see plot holes much easier. I also notice when I drop a character and never pick them back up again. It is easy to go back and find something I referenced in a prior scene because I can look at my outline and know, approximately, where it is. The outline also helps me maintain consistency with my details and the voices of my characters.

I have yet to become stuck wondering what should come next. The words just flow. I know it will still be a shity first draft, and they always are, but it will be a completed first draft, and that’s what matters.

Death’s Gift

death

“Life is so short,” Jasper said. He stared off into the distance. Sage words from a seven-teen-year old boy, who has his whole life before him. He turned his steel blue eyes toward me. A longing sadness filled his eyes and clouded his expression.

“It is, but the fact that you realize that now rather than when you are fifty is an opportunity for you to make the most of what you have,” I said. He ran his hand through his short dark brown hair.

“Don’t leave things unsaid, set goals, and clarify your priorities. You’ll be all right,” I said.

This isn’t the first conversation we have had about the end of life, and I’m sure it will not be the last. At least, I hope it is not. Jasper often thinks about death. Some may believe he shouldn’t dwell on something so negative. I disagree. The sooner you realize that you don’t have all the time in the world, the more you will strive to be exceptional now.

Immortality is great as an idea. Immortal beings crop up in many fantasy novels and we love them. How wonderful would it be to have immeasurable time to accomplish all we desire?

How many of the things that we hold dear would lose their value because they and we are infinite? You could put off learning to play the piano, writing a novel, camping with your children, and fishing with your dad until there was nothing remaining.

There are those that find the shadowy specter of death hovering in the fog of the future terrifying instead of inspiring. Rather than allowing the end to scare them into taking full advantage of the beauty and happiness before them, they shut themselves off from the world. Not taking risks, not venturing out of their comfort zone, they sit wasting away. They lock up the little life that they have in a safety deposit box. In doing so, they have already breathed their last breath.

Death is a gift, it places immeasurable value on each and every moment you have. Make them count.

Flash Fiction Friday: Bad Parents

Flash Fiction Friday is a challenge offered by Author Chuck Wendig on his blog Terribleminds. Chuck throws out a random topic and you have until Friday at noon EST to write a fictional short story in 1000 words. This week’s challenge was near and dear to my heart, “Bad Parents.” In a sense my personal experiences probably limited my creativity since bad parenting is the crux of my day job.

Bad Parents

“Get out of my face you little bastard!” she screeched inches from Andy’s cherub cheeks, sprinkling them with her spit. With narrowed eyes, she pushed on his chest, and he plopped onto his behind. Tears spilled from his eyes and his bottom lip quivered. I glared at her and pulled him into the bathroom.

“Hurry up in there you little whore. He needs to be in bed before Steve and Dereck get here.” She slapped the door.

Letting out a held breath, I leaned against the door pressing it closed. I hated her. Yes, she was my mom, but I hated her. I felt bad about hating her, I mean, I should love her, right? What could I do at seven years old? I couldn’t leave or tell anyone. She said we would be in foster care, separated, and god knows what else. I wasn’t going to lose Andy. He needed me, and I needed him.

The running water drowned out mom’s continued raving about how worthless we were, and how she wouldn’t have to get high all the time if she didn’t have us. She told me she needed to escape her awful life. I lifted Andy into the warm water. A brown ring circled the tub. I scratched at it with my fingernail lost in my thoughts of how I could make mom’s life better.

“Sit down, so you don’t fall,” I told him. We pushed his rubber ducks around in the bubbles I had made with dish soap. Mom cries a lot, ever since we found dad hanging in the closet by a belt. I wish he were here. She didn’t get high so much then.

I pulled Andy out of the tub, dried him, and put a diaper on him.

Through the door, I heard Steven and Derek come into our one bedroom apartment. I opened the door just an inch. She snatched my shirt and yanked me toward her. My cheeks and forehead cracked against edge of the door and the doorframe.

“I don’t want to see your ugly face tonight,” she said through clenched teeth, pushing me back into the bathroom.

Mom and her friends were laughing and coughing out there while I read The Giving Tree to Andy in the corner of the bathroom. Heavy footsteps passed the door. Two more sets of steps followed a minute later. I stroked Andy’s hair and waited. No light came under the door. Their muffled voices came to my ears. I turned the doorknob and peeked out. Her door was closed.

Andy and I tiptoed down the hall to our mattress on the floor behind the couch. I cleared the old pizza box and McDonald’s wrappers off. A cloud of pee wafted through the air as Andy flopped onto our mattress splotched with yellow and black stains.

“You sing?” Andy asked.

“If you’re quiet, I’ll sing,” I told him. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was the only song that came to my mind.

Once Andy was asleep, I tiptoed down the hall. What are they doing in there? Their voices were getting louder. Mom was talking real fast. It was dark in the room, other than an occasional flicker of dancing light.

There was rustling on the other side of the door. I shuffled back down the hall tripping over a pile of clothes. Mom grabbed my arm and pressed her nails into my skin. I squeezed my eyes closed.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Trying to catch a peek of my man? You little slut,” Mom said, shaking my eyes open.

The fire in her eyes scared the heck out of me. That fire had burned me more than once.

“No mommy, I was going to the potty.” I looked at the floor. Her backhand caught me on the left side of my face and sent me crashing into the wall. I pulled my legs to my chest and tucked my chin into my knees. She kicked me in the ribs and slammed the door.

The sun rose casting a soft yellow glow through the front windows.

“Mommy, wake up,” Andy said, shaking mom’s bare shoulder. She didn’t stir. Her eyes didn’t flutter open sparkling with love. She didn’t even breathe anymore. I stood at the door of her bedroom. I knew before Andy touched her. Her lips were blue, and white powder dusted her nose. The oozing pus nodules ringed in red on her arms stared back at me like her red-rimmed eyes. Andy looked back at me, his diaper sagging between his knees.

“Come on Andy, she’s real tired. Let’s change you and go for a walk,” I said, waving him out of her room with my hand. He kissed her pale cold cheek. I pulled the door closed hoping the residual chemical smell wouldn’t follow us like the specter of my mother.

“Why won’t she wake?”

“She was up late last night little man.”

“With her friends?”

“Yeah,” I whispered wiping the tears from my face. I chipped dried oatmeal out of a bowl and set it on the table for Andy. I poured the last of the frosted flakes in the bowl.

As I turned the blue lid of the milk, a rotten stench ran into my face. I gagged and set it in the sink overflowing with dishes caked in week old rotting food.

“There’s no milk.” I handed him a blackened spoon. Mom used it to smoke a rock last night, but it was the cleanest spoon in the house.

Pulling out clothes from a knee-high pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the living room, I brought each piece to my nose. It’s all sour. All the socks are yellow and stiff. I tug one of mom’s t-shirts over Andy’s head and roll some socks over his toes.

“I need to call someone,” I said.  “Let’s go.”

Taking his hand in mine, we walked in the morning sun dragging his dingy blanket behind us.