photo by Mark Menzies

Please welcome today’s guest, Monica Bhide, to Writer Unboxed! Monica is a well-established nonfiction writer, appearing in such publications as Food & Wine, The New York Times, Parents, Cooking Light, Prevention, Bon Appetit, and many more. She’s been named one of the seven noteworthy food writers to watch by The Chicago Tribune, and one of the top 10 food writers on Twitter by Mashable. She’s also published three cookbooks, including her June release, Modern Spice: Inspired Indian recipes for the contemporary Kitchen.

Monica’s first short fictional story, entitled Mother, was published by Akashic Books in a collection called Singapore Noir just this month.

Recently, Monica pitched us for a guest post here at WU, and we couldn’t resist. She wrote:

We all deal with writing projects that fail. As a recovering engineer, I felt I need to engineer a way to deal with the failed project and move forward. I hope my technique will help people move forward in a more productive way.

Intrigued? Read on. We think you’ll enjoy Timeboxed Whining as much as we did.

You can learn more about Monica on her website, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

Timeboxed Whining

Some projects die. No matter how talented the creator, how great the project, how awesome the reviews are, there are projects that do not make it. Books with great reviews sell only a few copies, paintings end up in dumpsters, innovative products never make it to market. Why? I don’t know. Maybe the timing wasn’t right, maybe the stars did not align, or maybe the artist wore the wrong shirt.  What is my point? Shit happens.

I have had manuscripts shrivel up and die, and books that I thought would be awesome just barely create a flutter in the market. It is hard. As creative people, we put our heart and souls into our work, and when it doesn’t succeed, all we want to do is quit.

I have created a coping technique to deal with the sadness that accompanies such a situation. I call it “Timeboxed Whining.”

Timeboxing is a technique I learned about during my consulting days in corporate America. Basically, it places a time limit on a situation. For instance, no matter what happens, the six o’clock news needs to go on at six. So the preparation work for that broadcast needs a timebox, which is to say it needs to be completed within a certain timeframe no matter what else happens because there is a hard deadline at the end.

Now, combine that with whining and you have a workable solution to mourning a failed project. (Artists swear by this. I do, too.) This is a five-day exercise. Here is how it works.

Days 1, 2, and 3: Set aside a time when you are going to whine. (Stay with me here.) I pick a time in the afternoon when I am prone to feeling sorry for myself and wondering how I will ever pull out of this failure. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Pull out a sheet of paper—no, you cannot do this on the computer. Now start writing all the reasons why you are upset and why the project failed and why you will never succeed again and why the whole world sucks. Instead of calling a friend and complaining about the economy/weather/ whatever is bothering you and having him or her annoy you more (!), write it down. As Julia Cameron says, “put the drama on the paper” where it belongs. And leave it there. Once the 15 minutes are up, place the paper in a envelope. You are not allowed to worry, whine, complain, or think about the project any more. Your timebox is done.

Day 4:  Now that you have finished the whining, it is time to move to the next step. Again give yourself 15 minutes. Start the timer, but this time focus on all the lessons you have learned from this project. What did it teach you about your craft? About the market? About the audience for your product? Finish up and place this paper on your desk.

Day 5: Start the timer – again 15 minutes. What are the top three things about the project that totally rocked? What part did you love the most? At the end of the time, place this sheet on your desk and read it again and again, along with the one about what you learned. Take the envelope filled with the whining and in a ritual that suits your temperament, do what you need to do to get rid of it—burn it, rip and place it in the recycling bin.

It is gone. The sadness is out of your system. You have moved on. The papers in front of you are what will help you move forward: what you have learned (day 4) and how you will apply that to the next project (day 5).

Use this timeboxed whining to create what my old boss called Best Practices and Lessons Learned. Now you have terrific insight to move forward with your next dream project.

How do you deal with the sadness of a failed project?