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Timeboxed Whining

WU [1]
photo by Mark Menzies

Please welcome today’s guest, Monica Bhide [2], 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 [3] 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 [4].

Monica’s first short fictional story, entitled Mother, was published by Akashic Books in a collection called Singapore Noir [5] 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 [2], and by following her on Facebook [6] and Twitter [7].

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?

About Monica Bhide [8]

Monica Bhide [9] is an award winning writer, literary coach, poet, storyteller, and educator. As a bestselling fiction and internationally renowned cookbook author, Bhide is known for sharing food, culture, mystery, and love in her writing. Having roots and experience in many places, Bhide inspires readers everywhere with present day stories which transcend cultural, chronological, geographical, economical, and religious borders. Bhide’s short story collection, The Devil in Us, topped the list on Kindle as a bestseller in its category of Literary Short Fiction. Her memoir, A Life of Spice, was picked by Eat Your Books as one of the top five food memoirs of 2015. Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi picked Bhide’s Modern Spice (Simon & Schuster, 2009), as one of the “Best Books Ever” for Newsweek in 2009. A respected writing authority, Bhide appears regularly on NPR and conducts sold-out workshops on writing, food, culture, and scheduled speaking events at prestigious venues as the Smithsonian Institution, Sackler Gallery, Les Dames d’Escoffier, Georgetown University, and Yale University. She has taught all over the world including conferences in London, Dubai, US etc. She has also been the “Writing Coach in Residence” for the annual conference of the Association of Food Journalists.