A SmartWomen’s Year in Review: Writing Fail (Part III)

I caught my first episode of Netflix’s Nailed It! tonight, and this might either be the perfect metaphor for what I want to say this week, or the worst, so bear with me. In case you’re don’t know the show, the premise is pretty basic: think baking competition show with the worst amateur bakers possible. This isn’t The Great British Baking Show, where everyone’s doing these complex recipes that somehow come out at least decently, because everyone there knows what fondant is. No, this is the show with every single food-related Pinterest fail ever.


Tonight, my five-year-old son stumbled across Nailed It! and began laughing hysterically. He’s no cook, but he was totally prepared to call them up and let them know that those cake pops were not good. He wanted to tell them exactly how to do it.

Together, we watched the second half of one of the holiday episodes, and we had a blast. He couldn’t stop laughing at the results, and I couldn’t help but notice how good-naturedly the contestants managed their inabilities. Even the teacher who talked about not wanting to embarrass her kids? Well, I know she knew that was going to happen. Even the firefighter who did a halfway decent job had a long way to go.

But I loved that it’s a show that revels in imperfection. The teacher knew her Santa cake looked bad, but figured she could still win based on taste – and she had more flavor in that cake than the men did. They all seemed to walk away content in their failure, and I admire that.

Here’s my attempted metaphor, then: when it comes to writing, this year was my Nailed it! year, a year of spectacular failure. It’s not exactly the same, admittedly, because I realize they were actually baking and working on their craft, while I….well, not so much.


I’ve been skirting the issues for awhile now, haven’t I? Looking back at my 2018 posts, I can see I’ve written a number of things – some reflections, lots of posts about teaching…but I haven’t really mentioned my writing since September 2017.

I can explain that.

In 2018, I kind of stopped writing. Not altogether; as you know, I’ve been on here. I even started getting back into Twitter (a little. slowly). I’ve done a few minor things (we’ll get to those).

But 2018 was not, for me, a year of writing (by any stretch of my imagination). This was a sharp contrast to 2016 in particular, when I returned to my dissertation at full run, probably tilting at windmills in the process. I don’t want to say that I stopped trying in 2018, but maybe I did.

As 2018 comes to a close, I want to own my successes and failures this past year (and possibly before). Let’s start with what I did do:

  • I rewrote my book proposal last spring (at least twice) for a prospective agent.
  • I wrote a successful sabbatical application at work
  • I submitted (and had accepted for publication) an article that will come out in a magazine on teaching East Asia.
  • I was asked two write (and then wrote) two book reviews for H-Net
  • I blogged here

It’s not a bad list. It’s not where I want to be, which is where I think of it as failure. I told my Smart Women Write colleagues last week that I’ve felt like a total failure while they’ve been writing these past few months; I don’t feel I have anything to write about. Maybe that’s because I’m not writing (although this fall I’ve written more than ever, given list above). That would probably be a fair explanation, since I know that writing begets writing.

To be honest, I’ve struggled for quite awhile now with juggling motherhood and work and writing. There are scenarios in which those three combinations work (and have), but this year has not been great for that. I know all the rules – just get my butt in the chair, just write. Just take a few minutes every day. I know these things. I just can’t get them right now.


Instead, 2018 has been the year in which I stressed too much, mostly about family things. If I’m honest, I’ve let that overtake my life. That doesn’t mean I had a bad year, or that I didn’t like 2018. There were many good things about it. From a writing standpoint, though, I’m just calling it a fail, and I’m okay with that. This is me-on-Nailed It! speaking: I’m embracing my failure in all its glory, realizing that I tried some things, but never got to what I imagined. (Yes, I know the metaphor’s not perfect, but let’s take it for now).

Part of that failure involves my book project, which is in limbo. Last spring, it seemed promising and then it fizzled. I think I know why: the agent who had been interested talked about my needing more of a platform, and I get that. This paralyzed me, though. I have no idea how to build a platform – or take the time to do that – when I’m running between things almost every hour of the day.

I’ve spent a lot of this year overwhelmed, and that’s not something I admit easily.

I don’t know how to move forward from that sense of being overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do about my book. I don’t really know what comes next in 2019, but I’m going to give it a shot.

If nothing else, I hope to report back next year with some beautiful failures to share.

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