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Monday, 3 October 2011

Imminent Failure

Nobody likes to fail. I rarely set out to do something if I feel like I might hit a wall. That may make me a coward but it prevents situations that are intolerable to my own delicate constitution. So the news last week that I'm not ready to upgrade from MPhil to PhD level was not just a slap in the face - it came at me like a body blow. In terms of sensation fiction, I can explain it in this way: I was Walter Hartright happily trundling along an open road. Then Anne Catherick appeared and everything went a little mad.

My major problem in my day-to-day life is the same one I face when I visit a Toby Carvery. The inclination to pile my plate high just because I can is overwhelming. The difference with the meal, I suppose, is that I can stop eating when I want. When I take on lots of projects I'm compelled to continue with them, either through obligation or my own stubbornness. I thought it might be useful to list the tasks I'm undertaking at the moment to see where - if anywhere - I can cut before I collapse and fail at absolutely everything.

  1. PhD - As I mentioned, this is going very badly. The advice was pretty much brutal in all respects: I need to sort out my structure, argument, themes and title amongst other things, and this is only for the upgrade chapter! In order to pass my upgrade I need to have an abstract ready for the rest of the thesis. Although I can flannel this to an extent, I have an innate fear of flannelling - boasting about a book I hadn't read nearly put paid to this PhD before I'd started it. Anyway, on any given day my PhD consists of: primary reading (usually via a computer screen as most of the novels I'm looking at have been out of print for a century), secondary reading (both library books and contemporary sources available online), novel analysis and actual writing. I'll be honest here - the reading overwhelms me. I simply can't go as quickly as I need to. Given the fact that I'm a fairly fast reader, as well, I honestly pity people doing this sort of research who don't have zippy eyes. As part of my PhD I'm also required to take part in the Doctorate Development Programme. So far...well, I haven't. It's teaching me how to do the things I already need to and not helping me with the things I do need help with. As you can probably tell, PhD stuff quickly piles up.
  2. Original Writing - This is the major sap of my free time, I think. I try and keep to my boundaries - I only usually write on evenings and at weekends. However, that still means that my 'after proper work hours' are full to the brim. At last count I had: two novels of around 60,000 words which have been redrafted several times, three novels in progress (one of 44,000, one of just under 10,000 and one of around 4,000), two scripts in progress, twelve short stories I'm revising and trying to place and numerous ideas I'm desperately trying to keep track of. The fact is, I will not give up writing. Not only do I like doing it, I need to do it. I'm serious about being a writer and I don't see how giving up my dream now will help me in the long run. As the song goes, 'You've got to have a dream, if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?'. Quite! I'm aiming to build on the success of having my short play performed. And I will build on it.
  3. Freelancing for Lesbilicious - The articles I write for the website are my only source of income but that's not really the reason I want to continue with them. I enjoy coming across things related to LGBT experiences that I wasn't aware of and I feel compelled to highlight injustices across the world. It's a fight we all need to recognise, whether we're gay, straight or anything else. As you can tell, it's a subject I feel passionately about. Therefore no giving up.
  4. Work for 2020UK - Now, I'm very proud to be in on the ground floor of this group. We're aiming to promote discussion on how the UK should be governed. It's one hell of a wide topic but I don't tire of it. My obligations consist of a weekly blog (I do the Wednesday one) and articles as and when something crops up that I feel needs highlighting. I also visit the website to engage in discussion. This is another subject I feel passionately about. I don't think you can moan about the state of society if you're not engaged trying to find another path. So, again, no negotiation on this one - it's staying and I'm proud of that fact.
  5. Family Commitments Etc - This incorporates my weekly meals with my grandmother, my visits to the other half every few weeks and my time spent with my three nieces and nephew. I have to say, I would give up everything else on this list before I relinquish my time with the little people. Nor am I willing to deprive my grandmother of the one person who always gives her a hug. So, once more, non-negotiable.
  6. Fan Fiction - On the face of it this is one thing I should drop like a stone. However, I'm a little loathe to do that. I currently have two long pieces in progress. I restarted one a few months ago after a few years of stagnation and the response was overwhelming. I'm not prepared to mess around those readers again. This category also incorporates the Otalia Virtual Season that I'm a part of. As much as I want to be a part of it, I remember the pressure last year. Not sure if I can handle that again on top of everything else.
  7. Blogging - Well, it had to be included! The blog stays. End of.
  8. Piano Practice - I try to give myself half an hour each day to chill out and mess around on the piano I was given from my grandmother a few months ago. I'm steadily getting better and, as it serves as one of my only sources of relaxation, I think that luxury can stay.
  9. Television Viewing - I don't watch much. My father records stuff for me and I watch it when I can. It usually consists of some BBC4 programmes, some crime shows and my guilty pleasures of Coronation Street and Downton Abbey. Since it doesn't sap too much time and is my second source of relaxation, I think it can stay.
  10. Reading - As a writer, I think I have to read. It's in the large-print of the manual. More than that, I read last thing at night to distance myself from the work I've done during the day. Some of the stories may give me frightening dreams but at least I'm not planning the next chapter of my novel or asking myself questions about Edmund Yates or James Payn. Besides, I review books for this blog. It also fills in a lot of time when I'm travelling, both to university and elsewhere. I rarely sit doing nothing, as you can tell.
There it all is. What do you reckon? 


Sal said...

If you were looking for someone to tell you what you should do, you'll be disappointed in me.
I am the first one to pile too many things up on my plate (currently, full time work, two novels, BatesandSanders, cross stitching, reading, tv (though I do most of the above whilst I watch TV), spending time with and looking after my boys, the burden of being a new mummy to a kitten who doesn't understand the word no and I'm also learning to drive.
But let me tell you this. Even if you got rid of half your list, you would always have too much to do. There is never enough time to do the things you want to. And that is ok.

Don't beat yourself up because you have a lot to do. Celebrate that you are a smart, wonderful, caring person who has people who love her and depend on her. You have enough about you to go out there and get what you want. And I am very envious your tenacity.

CharmedLassie said...

Was that designed to make me cry?!

What you call tenacity I call stubbornness. It may be the reality that I'm not meant to do this PhD. I just don't see a way either forward or out of it.

Michael Cronogue said...

I was once told that the only failure in life is the failure to try.

It can take several "trys" to achieve success, it took me 25 years to finally kick the smoking habit!!

If you can imagine yourself doing it......

CharmedLassie said...

I have an inability to ignore a challenge, Michael. I need to have more than one day in a frame of mind because at the moment nothing sticks for more than five minutes!