Going Wrong

How not to write a murder mystery:
(1) Plan it out
(2) Write 5000 words
(3) Leave it for a day
(4) Read through what you've written
(5) Discover a gaping plot hole
(6) Discover another one
(7) Start planning it out more thoroughly this time

A few months ago I bought a video camera on ebay - a bargain for UKP20. It can't play back properly and won't run from batteries, but it's still quite a bargain.

Tonight my older camera stopped being able to play back - it's been getting more and more unreliable, which is why I got the other one. So now I've got two video cameras that can record, and none that can play back what either has recorded.

Ten minutes later I got a call, asking me to help with a student art project by filming it and putting the result on DVD. Well, I can film it, but...

I wonder if ambitious people are really just those who've developed ways to handle frustration?

Most plans never get off the ground, most projects end in failure, most hopes are dashed, most attempts to change anything about the world end in defeat, and most new ideas turn out to be unworkable.

Or if you prefer the optimistic version: The path to success is a thousand failures. It's just that the path to failure is also a thousand failures, but let's pretend we don't know that because we're being optimistic and focusing on eventual success.

My point is that most people, after a few setbacks, decide they can't cope with the disappointment and sense of futility, so stop trying. They call it "being realistic" or "being reasonable". And that's why reasonable people never achieve anything.

But what about those who don't get ground down by failure? I think there's probably lots of types, such as:

* People who treat setbacks as information on how to do better next time. Every single book on how to be a business manager advises the reader to be this kind of person. Effectively they're telling the reader to have no negative emotion at all about failure. Indeed, the implication is that failure should be welcomed, provided it increases the chances of future success.

Oddly, many of these same books talk about "emotional intelligence", which is a semi-mystical quality that effective managers supposedly have that involves feeling hurt but not disabled by failure, so they feel enough pain to avoid failure-producing behavior in the future but not so much they lose their sense of proportion.

The reason it's odd is that a person with the pure "setback as information" attitude they describe is someone with no emotional intelligence whatsoever, because they have no negative emotion.

Management theory isn't just bullshit. It's self-contradictory bullshit.

* People who persuade themselves they didn't fail after all. A subtype is those who redefine success to mean whatever kind of failure they got.

* People who say things like "Nevermind, it could have been worse" and "Mustn't grumble" and "Worse things happen at sea". This is called "taking a philosophical view".

One of the behavioural features used by psychologists to define insanity is "inappropriate emotional response", which turns out to mean very common responses such as being annoyed by sentimentality, laughing at funerals, being unbothered by a spouses adultery, wanting to blow up a bus because the government demonises you, and loving someone who beats you up.

Which means either everyone in the world is barking mad, or emotions are more complex than psychiatrists would like.

Anyway, if "taking a philosophical view" isn't "inappropriate emotional response", I don't know what is.

* People with enormous reserves of determination. Or an unshakable faith that they will eventually succeed no matter how badly they fail now. Essentially, those whose frustration is dwarfed by their drive.

Most such people are nutcases. A very few of these eventually do succeed and get called visionaries, even though they're really just lucky nutcases. A different very few look exactly like nutcases but actually are visionaries, though they usually fail. It gets complicated.

Personally, I've always lived in a cloud of small frustrations - each a trivial single fleabite on its own. I'm so used to them my only response is a kind of irritated boredom. This isn't a way to overcome frustration, but it is a way to be irritated and bored most of the time.

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